Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Cloudy Sessions



Humboldt County marijuana growers hoping a typo would grant them a reprieve from paying the twice-yearly excise tax overwhelmingly passed by voters in November are going to be disappointed.

When 65 percent of county voters passed Measure S, imposing a $1 to $3 per-square foot tax on commercial grows, they apparently missed a potentially crucial error, as did county counsel, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and just about everyone who looked at the ordinance. While the board thought it had approved a tax structure that would mandate biannual (twice a year) payments from growers projected to total more than $7 million a year, the final measure language read biennial, meaning once every two years.

"Welcome to spell check, you know," said County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck, explaining that he believes somewhere through the editing process the word biannual was misspelled and autocorrected to biennial. "This one slipped through."

But calm down, Blanck admonished, the error means little if anything in the grand scheme of things and certainly won't prevent the local tax man from visiting growers twice a year. Blanck said county code provides that staff can correct "clerical errors" in measures and ordinances without further action by the board. And even if that wasn't the case, Measure S included language allowing the board of supervisors to amend anything in it, except the tax rate, without having to go back to voters.

The cannabis world had to sit through hours of questions about the Klu Klux Klan, Hillary Clinton, Muslim bans and torture, but the question it was waiting for finally came. An answer, however, didn't really follow.

Donald Trump's nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions for the post of attorney general has set off alarm bells in the world of legalized medical and recreational marijuana as, well, Sessions isn't cool with the weed. It's an uncoolness the senator has made plain on multiple occasions, from his reportedly saying 30 years ago that he thought the KKK was OK until he found out they smoked pot to last year, when he said on the Senate floor that "good people don't smoke marijuana."

Remembering that it was Obama AG Eric Holder who distributed the memo that currently has the federal government standing down from prosecuting marijuana businesses operating in accordance with state law, and it's easy to see why the industry is spooked by Sessions.

It wasn't until hours into the hearing when one of Sessions' colleagues, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, piped up and asked if he'd use federal resources to prosecute sick people using marijuana under state law. "I won't commit to never enforcing federal law," Sessions answered.

So does he agree with the aforementioned guidelines put out by Holder, Leahy asked.

"I think some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases, but fundamentally the criticism I think that is legitimate is that they may not have been followed," Sessions said. "Using good judgment on how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine. I know it won't be an easy decision but I will try to do my duty in a fair and just way."

Are we clear? Apparently not, as Utah Sen. Mike Lee then asked Sessions about how he viewed the marijuana issue through a states' rights lens.

"One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act," Sessions answered. If that's something that's not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change that rule. It is not the Attorney General's job to decide what laws to enforce."

I'm not exactly sure what all that means but I'm pretty sure it does nothing to ease the heart palpitations of an industry that now operates legally under the laws of a majority of the nation's states.

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