Two measures that would wall off portions of medical marijuana tax revenues in Mesquite were up for introduction at the Mesquite City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 25. One passed and one didn’t.
The first measure would devote half of 1 percent of the 3 percent tax collected from local medical marijuana sales to supplement shortfalls in funding for Mesquite schools. The agenda item was sponsored by Councilman Brian Wursten who said the fund would be controlled by the council with input from the Mesquite Community Education Advisory Board (CEAB). “None of the money would go to the [school] district, nor would it be controlled by the district,” Wursten said.
Even though state laws provide that a portion of state-wide marijuana tax receipts be given to school districts, Wursten said he didn’t believe Mesquite would see very much of that in the end. “This will help our schools, which is what we originally said when we voted in marijuana,” Wursten said. The bill was being introduced for public hearing on Aug. 8 and represented 16.67 percent of the total revenue collected from medical marijuana sales in Mesquite.
“The body is not even cold yet and we’re harvesting organs,” Councilman George Rapson said in opposition to both measures being introduced. The second bill would allocate a similar amount of local tax revenues to the police department.
“This tax has been in place for three weeks. We do not have a clue what the ultimate revenue stream is going to be from recreational or medical marijuana,” Rapson said.
Rapson urged the council to put both requests on hold until the next annual budget process in May 2018. He added that the current fiscal year just began July 1 and the city has some hefty costs coming from union employee contracts.
“This sets a terrible precedent and binds us for a long time to do things that may not be the highest, best use of the funds. I can’t support that,” Rapson said. “I don’t think I’m qualified [as a councilman] to make decisions about the schools. I don’t necessarily trust it [the school] to manage our funds.”
Councilman Dave Ballweg agreed with Rapson “on the fiscal issues. We’re only one month into our fiscal year. We don’t know how the state money will be distributed. We’re in the middle of the school district reorganization and don’t know how that will work out. I think this is a noble issue for the city to discuss but it’s wholly premature right now.”
Councilman Geno Withelder also agreed with Rapson and Ballweg. “We are putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “I don’t believe we know what we’re talking about at this point. We’re speaking in generalities and not actual dollars and cents but in percentages. But percentages of what remains to be seen at this point. We have to give it some time before we make decisions on this important issue.”
Wursten reminded the council that the reason marijuana was legalized was to help fund schools. “They need it and we can quickly spend this money on so many things. That’s why I don’t think it’s too early in the process.”
Wursten made the motion to set a public hearing for the issue on Aug. 8. Councilman Rich Green seconded it. Both men voted in favor of the motion while Rapson, Ballweg, and Withelder voted no.
When Green introduced the second measure to devote marijuana tax revenues to the police department, he said “this is a little different. The fees will go into the general fund and our expenses for public safety come out of the general fund. I think it’s a good idea to designate part of the funds. Yes, we have an uncertainty over the amount so we could set a cap. This is kind of like the ‘More Cops’ program.”
Rapson disagreed, saying he talked to Chief Troy Tanner and asked him if he had seen any change in the criminal environment as a result of legalized marijuana. “He said not one thing has changed” and that the relationship between the police and the marijuana dispensary was good and will get better.
“We have never denied Chief Tanner any resources he’s asked for,” Rapson said. “Again, it’s only been three weeks.”
Ballweg said he also talked to Chief Tanner and “he wasn’t made aware that this was being introduced. We should wait and revisit this next spring when we know more. We should do our due diligence through the budgeting structure and not ad hoc like we’re doing now.”
Green made a motion to set a public hearing for Aug. 8 and Wursten seconded it. Both men voted for the motion and in an apparent complete turnabout, Withelder voted yes. Ballweg and Rapson voted against it.
Without discussion or question, the council unanimously awarded a conditional business license to GPRP Distributors LLC as a marijuana distributor at Deep Roots marijuana dispensary. Two of the owners also have interests in Deep Roots Harvest LLC. The issue is related to the state-level tug-of-war between liquor distributors and marijuana distributors over rights to distribute recreational marijuana.