A large group of high school students and supporters attended the first part of the Mesquite City Council meeting on Aug. 8 to protest the inaction of the council to allot a portion of tax receipts from marijuana sales to school activities. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

There was more drama over an issue not on the agenda than anything on it at the Mesquite City Council meeting held Tuesday, Aug. 8. Several dozen high school students, parents and teachers expressed their disapproval of the council’s decision at the July 25 meeting to not move forward on the introduction of a resolution that would dedicate portions of medical marijuana tax revenues in Mesquite to fund school activities.

The resolution was similar to a second resolution that would wall off tax revenues for public safety that did make it to a public hearing slated for Tuesday night. However, that initiative was ultimately pulled from the agenda by its sponsor Councilman Rich Green before receiving a hearing.

Councilman Brian Wursten introduced a measure on July 25 that 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. Wursten said the fund would be controlled by the council with input from the Mesquite Community Education Advisory Board (CEAB).

The measure died on a 2-3 vote to move it forward with three councilmen arguing that dedicating any monies from marijuana tax sales was premature and outside the budgeting process. Councilmen George Rapson, David Ballweg and Geno Withelder voted no with Wursten and Green voting yes.

Recreational marijuana sales began state-wide on July 1. Medical marijuana sales began several years ago.

“The body is not even cold yet and we’re harvesting organs,” Councilman George Rapson said in opposition on July 25. “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.”

The high school supporters criticized the council for not allowing the hearing and giving them a say in the issue. One student, reading prepared remarks accused the council of “flipping” on education but saying yes to public safety. “You promised to give us funding [from marijuana sales] but now you’re not,” she said.

After about 30 minutes of public comment, Wursten told the crowd he would put the resolution back on the next agenda and push for a public hearing on the measure. Most of the supporters left the council chambers after that.

However, during council comments Ballweg said his no vote at the last council meeting on both resolutions was promulgated on the budgeting process and that both measures were premature because no one could adequately or accurately predict the amount of taxes that will be collected.

“I never promised to give any money to the schools. I never promised anyone any money from marijuana revenues,” Ballweg said. Adding that he was a big proponent of the local schools, Ballweg said “because we say no, we have a lot of issues we face up here on the dais. It’s a budget issue. We don’t even have all the ordinances in place yet. This is all too premature. I’m not saying I won’t support education but right now, we’re only one month into our budget year.”

Rapson added that “I echo what Councilman Ballweg said. This is not a feel-good thing. This is a economic issue. Until we know how much revenue and we know how much the one half of one percent equals, and we know our other priorities in the budget process, this is not the right time for either one of these. It’s as simple as that.”

When Green’s resolution was introduced for public hearing, he said he was concerned that there would be public safety issues in the future because of the availability of recreational marijuana. “But it is too early,” for the taxable receipt dedication. “We’re going to cover the costs. We don’t need to try to do something at this stage. I put it on so we could have public comment. The other issue has drawn more emotion. I want to table this motion now and not take action on it until a later date.”

The council determined that tabling the issue would bring it back at the next council meeting. Instead, no councilperson made a second on the motion so it died.