Berkeley is considering raising taxes on medical marijuana 20-fold. The city wants to turn marijuana into a cash crop that generates more sales tax revenue. A pair of ordinances could go before Berkeley voters in November at the same time California votes on legalizing marijuana with Proposition 19.
"If it passes, it would be available to cities to tax, so we're putting an item on to allow us to be able to tax the marijuana in the event it passes, so we'd be ahead of the game," says Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.
Taxes on so-called recreational pot would be 10 percent of gross sales; medical marijuana could be taxed up to 2.5 percent.
"Truly medical patients would probably need a different grade or high-potency of medication as opposed to something more mainstream and for adult use only, so we think there's still going to be a separation," says Brad Senesca from the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary.
Also up for discussion are changes in home-growing and cultivation in Berkeley that some say could create jobs.
There are now three medical marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley. They are ready to permit a fourth.
"We want to remind you guys that the low income community is still most affected and least protected," says Marijuana Collective employee Marc Pereira.
"I want you to think in terms of people on fixed income, who are desperate for medication, who have to pay a premium, so if you can try to keep the taxes down," says medical marijuana patient Richard Muller.
But others applauded the taxes as an historical opportunity.
"This represents one of our only hopes to fill our municipal coffers to keep our schools open and maybe reopen a pool," says Berkeley resident Ralph Crowder.
"Raise the taxes! No one wants to pay more than marijuana growers, 10 percent is too low," says Berkeley resident Joohn Choe.