Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jan 2015
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson


Officials in pot-rich Mendocino County are thinking ahead to the 
potential economic impacts of what they see as the inevitable 
legalization of marijuana for general use.

"Whether it's at the state Legislature or the ballot box, it is 
foreseeable that we will have legalization for personal recreational 
use within the next two years," said Supervisor John McCowen, one of 
two board members nominated to sit on a proposed committee that would 
study the issue. The county can either prepare for that event or wait 
on the sidelines, he said.

The board for years has supported cannabis legalization in hopes it 
will lead to improved controls over marijuana operations and the 
ability to tax the lucrative crop. The only way to quash the crime 
and environmental problems associated with marijuana production is to 
make it legal everywhere and apply consistent regulations, officials have said.

About two dozen states, including California, have legalized or 
decriminalized marijuana for some purposes. California voters in 1996 
legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and 
Washington have legalized pot for personal use.

There have been multiple failed attempts to legalize marijuana 
outright in California. It's widely believed that 2016 will be the 
year it occurs and county officials want to be ready.

"We have to get ahead of this. We can't just act like it's not 
there," said freshman Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, the other board 
member being suggested for the marijuana-study committee.

As proposed, the committee would focus on the potential economic 
impacts of legalization.

There could be both positive and negative economic impacts from 
legalization, the supervisors noted. On the up side, legalization 
could create a new tax source.

On the downside, rural property values - which have been elevated by 
demand for pot-growing plots - likely will drop.

"We're in a pot bubble," said Woodhouse, a real estate broker in 
Mendocino County's north county, where cannabis production is high.

It's difficult for officials to estimate the current value of the 
underground economy in Mendocino County, and the guesses vary widely. 
But Woodhouse said he wouldn't be surprised if it accounts for 30 
percent to 40 percent of the county's economy.

"It's a huge chunk," he said.

The county needs to understand the impacts of statewide legalization, 
which he expects to arrive through state legislation this year or via 
voters in 2016.

"The impacts to our local economy and the environment are huge" he said.

The board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to create the 
committee and, if it is approved, choose its members.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom