Pubdate: Wed, 04 Jul 2012
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Times-Herald
Author: Jessica A. York


Just three months into Vallejo's new tax on medical marijuana sales, 
the city is half way to its revenue goal for the program's first year 
- -- despite numerous dispensary raids.

City Finance Director Deborah Lauchner admits that the $250,000 
projected revenue was purposely low-balled, so the city would not 
fall short if the revenue dried up.

The 10 percent tax, implemented in March, has seen medical marijuana 
dispensaries come and go, with five consistently paying each of three 
months, Lauchner said.

"Different ones are paying," Lauchner said Friday. "If one gets 
raided and goes out of business, then another one takes its place, or doesn't."

One dispensary's operators, early proponents of the city's marijuana 
tax, have recently made allegations of unprofessional police conduct 
during ongoing raids, even as that organization has purportedly 
attempted to obtain required city safety permits and paid city taxes.

The dispensary, Better Health Group Collective, was raided for the 
third -- and possibly last -- time last month.

A total of seven dispensaries paid May's tax bill, down only one from 
the tax's launch, she said. Lauchner said she is aware of at least 
one dispensary still operating, that has yet to make a single 
payment. She said it was unclear what, if any, counter measures would 
be taken by the city against scofflaws.

The launch of the city's new so-called business license tax came just 
weeks after a now ongoing Vallejo Police Department crackdown on 
dispensaries and their operators, typically for a variety of 
drug-related state charges. None of those cases has worked their way 
through to a court trial since the first of eight raids, against 
Greenwell Cooperative in February, began. Of 10 people arrested in 
the raids, six have been charged and four cases have been dismissed 
pending further investigation.

Most recently, Better Health Group on Sonoma Boulevard has racked up 
the most raids among Vallejo dispensaries. Volunteers running the 
operation said the June 22 raid came within days of them paying their 
city sales tax -- a sore point among many in the medical marijuana community.

City officials, however, have repeatedly stressed that paying the tax 
does not immunize the dispensaries from criminal investigation.

Two Better Health Group volunteers, Joshua Parrish and Morgan 
Hannigan, gesturing last week to several rooms of strewn patient 
records, said this may be it for the dispensary. The group was just 
weeks from hosting political activism classes, and founder Jorge 
Espinosa was a vocal supporter of the city's medical marijuana sales tax.

The duo say the clincher on the most recent raid was removal of their 
marijuana growing equipment, and removal of part of their security 
system's recording device. They also pointed to remnants of a 
completed voter registration form that they said was torn up during the raid.

Police provided no response to requests for comment on the raid.

"They took all our medicine and donations," Parrish said. "Everything 
they've asked us to do, we've done. We got workers compensation. The 
fire inspector came last week, and we passed with flying colors. ... 
We're asking, why us? There's plenty of other clubs that haven't been raided."

While law enforcement attention on the dispensaries has led to 
closures of several storefronts, it has not, apparently, caused a 
concentration of revenue in the medical marijuana market, according 
to Lauchner's records.

"It looks like only two have had significant increases in their 
remittances, and that could have been because they started mid-month. 
I don't know," Lauchner said. "For the most part, each one that's 
paying, their revenue is about the same ... I don't see a spike 
saying, 'Wow, all the business went to there.' I don't see that kind 
of trend. Maybe, in two places, but their revenue isn't significant."
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