Los Angeles County Voters to Decide on Marijuana Taxes to Fund Homeless Projects

Los Angeles County residents will have a number of voting decisions awaiting them this November that could impact the future of L.A.’s homeless population.

The County Board of Supervisors approved a ballot measure in a 3-2 vote earlier this week that, if approved by the public, would place a 10% tax on area marijuana businesses and sales. This revenue would then be routed toward providing services and supplies to alleviate homelessness, which is estimated to affect as many as 47,000 people throughout the county.

Another ballot measure on the docket for the November 8 election is a $1.2 billion bond from property tax increases that would be used to build transitional housing for the homeless.

However, the bond only has enough funds to cover housing construction. It does not provide adequate funding for services such as food, mental health counseling, or repairs, the latter of which generally accounts for 1 to 4% of a home’s value annually.

The county government would use the bond to acquire land and build housing developments, which would then be rented to private sector service programs for $1 per year — a far better deal than the minimum 3.5% down payment required on a regular house. The proceeds from the marijuana tax could then be used as annual funding to maintain service programs for occupants.

If passed, the marijuana tax could generate anywhere from $78 to 130 million annually for homeless services, but the actual amount all depends on a third ballot measure: California’s vote on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use statewide.

The connection between the three separate measures could prove decisive in addressing Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis.

“We know that we will not see another opportunity in terms of public attention on homelessness and voter turnout like we will in November,” Katie Hill, executive director of the group People Assisting the Homeless, told the Los Angeles Times.

Each measure is not without its controversy, though. The marijuana tax was approved by the Board of Supervisors only after several other funding proposals failed, such as a millionaire’s tax on high-income earners or a quarter-cent sales tax, which could have generated as much as $355 million each year.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who previously tried to persuade Governor Jerry Brown to issue a state of emergency to acquire funds for addressing Los Angeles’ homeless, voted against the marijuana tax, calling it the “least effective choice.”

Supervisor Michael Antonovich also voted against the measure. “Drugs don’t build strong societies,” Antonovich said. “Marijuana is tied to dependence and addiction” and “runs counter to our public health approach.”

However, Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis, and Don Knabe voted in favor of the tax, arguing that California voters are likely to approve recreational use of marijuana regardless. “We ought to get a piece of the action, because it will help those that we need to help,” said Knabe.

If legalized, the county would not be able to start collecting taxes on recreational marijuana until 2018, though the medical marijuana business is still likely to generate at least $13 million every year.

“It’s time to do this now,” said Supervisor Kuehl.

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