Will Marijuana Users Take a Hit for the Homeless?

Someday soon you might be able to spark up a fatty in the name of helping the homeless. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to ask voters in November to approve a 10 percent marijuana tax that would benefit the tens of thousands of people living on our streets.

Such a tax, confined to business revenues and not aimed at retail consumers, could raise $78 million to $130 million, county officials say. It would require a two-thirds vote to pass. But that's only if California voters approve recreational marijuana on the same ballot

The measure, first proposed by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, is part of multiple efforts at the city, county and state levels to combat homelessness in L.A. and beyond.

The City Council has declared a state of emergency on homelessness, though the declaration's merits have been called into question. The city is asking voters to approve a November bond measure worth $1.2 billion in homeless support. County officials have already approved $100 million in new spending on the issue.

And the state will ask voters to approve a $2 billion "No Place Like Home" bond measure "to construct permanent, supportive housing for chronically homeless persons with mental illness," according to Kuehl's office.

An effort to get the state Legislature to create a law that would have allowed an L.A. County "millionaire's tax" to be put on the ballot failed. That tax also was aimed at benefiting those living on the streets.

Toking for homelessness seems the least painful of all these efforts.

"I feel that the special tax on marijuana sales will be an effective revenue source as we work to achieve our goal of ending homelessness," says Supervisor Hilda Solis.

But the county's projections of a windfall if recreational pot is approved might be rosy. Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Initiative, doesn't give pot retailers any more right to exist than they have now. Cities can continue to ban or limit dispensaries.

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The city of Los Angeles has capped the number of quasi-legit dispensaries in town at 135. In 2011 the county Board of Supervisors outlawed dispensaries in the areas they directly control — unincorporated communities.

A county insider said there's been a tectonic shift on the board since then. But it was only March when the board voted unanimously to redouble efforts to close down shops in unincorporated areas (!).

The tax, if approved, apparently would be levied countywide, atop local taxes in cities that have allowed pot shops to exist.

But the irony of a county government that wants to shut down marijuana businesses while at the same time hoping they'll come to the rescue during our homeless crisis is too rich.

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