Springfield voters will decide recreational marijuana sales tax issue on August 8; Greene County has no current plans to ask for marijuana tax

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 6:54 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The deadline for getting an issue on the August ballot is Wednesday, May 30 and Springfield’s City Manager Jason Gage says the city will meet that deadline to put a recreational marijuana sales tax proposal in front of voters on August 8.

On Monday night the Springfield City Council voted unanimously to sent the matter to a public vote. The three percent recreational marijuana sales tax would be in addition to the city’s base sales tax, which is 8.1 percent, and the state’s 6 percent tax, which was part of Amendment 3.

As part of the August 8 ballot language, the city council stated that if passed, the tax would only be used in four areas: public safety, mental health, substance abuse and housing.

“There was quite a bit of conversation about marijuana and drugs in general,” Gage explained. “We discussed what services could be affected and what needs are in the community. And those four items were connected by that common thread.”

Gage said a low-end estimate of the money the tax would produce is around $1.3 million annually from a thriving new industry that’s already reached sales of $1 billion in just three years, making Missouri the fastest state to reach that mark.

“I wish I was surprised but I’m not,” Gage said with a laugh. “I think as we look at other states that legalizing marijuana, especially recreationally, has significantly increased the interest in the drug. Our hope is that at least those who utilize legal marijuana will make it safer for them.”

On Tuesday Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said in a phone interview that the county currently has no plans to seek a marijuana tax in either the April or November elections. He pointed out that all the dispensaries are within the Springfield city limits, not in the county. And there is a potential sticking point involving Amendment 3, the law that made recreational marijuana legal.

The amendment states local governments can add up to three percent sales tax on recreational cannabis sales. It defines local governments as “in the case of an incorporated area, a village, town, or city and, in the case of an unincorporated area, a county.”

But it does not clarify that cities and counties are allowed to have two local taxes on the same goods which is referred to as “tax stacking.”

The Missouri Department of Revenue has reversed itself on the issue of tax stacking. On February 1 the DOR sent a letter to individual governments saying that counties could not stack another recreational marijuana tax on top of a city tax. But by the middle of the same month they rescinded the earlier guidance, saying the Amendment 3 language was “ambiguous” on the matter.

In April several cities and the counties they were in both passed recreational marijuana sales taxes of three percent each.

Of the confusion over the matter, the DOR wrote: “If necessary, courts are tasked with interpreting constitutional language. The Department will not supersede the decisions of the people on sales tax for adult marijuana nor the meaning of the constitutional verbiage when there is not a definitive answer.”

“It’s a bit of an issue for those trying to interpret the constitutional amendment and I think we really won’t know the answers as to whether that’s an allowed rule or not until it’s possibly litigated and the court will tell us,” Gage added. “But I think it’s pretty clear from the language that cities can add that three percent. The question that becomes more intriguing is when you have the county portion in an area in which there’s already a city tax. But when a judge steps in and provides a bit of clarity we’ll know more.”

Greene County may very well wait until that situation is resolved before making its decision. Springfield decided not to put the sales tax issue in the April election even though it was the largest city in the state not to have it on the ballot.

“We really wanted to see how the electorate responded in the other communities and counties before we jumped in,” Gage said. “That would give us a good indication. Most of them were pretty successful and the margins were pretty wide.”

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