Visalia voters likely to support cannabis tax

(Rigo Moran)

A survey of Visalia voters shows support for marijuana taxation to fund homelessness prevention programs

VISALIA – A survey of likely voters in Visalia has indicated significant support for the approval of a tax rate on marijuana sales in the city, which many of them would like to see be used to address the city’s issue with homelessness.

A law signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2022, Senate Bill (SB) 1186, mandates that cities in the state allow delivery for medicinal cannabis, but no such businesses currently operate in Visalia. Even still, as the city must comply with the statewide mandate to implement SB 1186, that means it can also impose a special tax on cannabis sales within its jurisdiction; however, the tax still needs to be approved by voters in the upcoming election.

“Currently, council has authorized staff to continue working with HdL Companies to develop a local cannabis tax measure and ballot language to be included on the November 2024 ballot, and appropriate $20,000 from the general fund for the development of tax measure informational materials,” said Devon Jones, Visalia’s economic development manager.

He continued, “But there is no direction to bring forward a policy/framework to potentially allow such businesses to operate in Visalia beyond what was implemented last year in response to SB 1186.”

According to a staff report from the latest city council meeting on May 6, several businesses have expressed interest in both delivery and store-front retail sales. However, retail sale of marijuana remains unlawful in Visalia, which continues to be one of the numerous California jurisdictions that bar store-front marijuana shops.

Still, the city contracted with a consultant, HdL Companies, to draft legislation to approve a taxation on cannabis, which will appear on the November 2024 ballot. The city council approved spending of no more than $40,000 to fund the effort, so the city spent $39,500 on the survey to determine the appetite of voters to approve taxation and other views of the city.

A survey was conducted by FM3 Research on the tax, and had a sample size of just 688 likely voters. The survey was done through telephone calls, text messages and emails and asked respondents a number of questions about how they view the city Visalia, in addition to questions about marijuana sales.

The survey identified a significant number of respondents either do not know or wrongly believe that marijuana sales are currently legal in Visalia. However, two-thirds of respondents support sales of cannabis and local taxation. When queried about whether the state mandate impacted these views, FM3 Research identified no statistical difference from people who were not asked about the mandate.

Notably, strong opinions were held by respondents on how the city could use the revenue generated from legalizing the sale of marijuana. The most common need respondents identified was addressing homelessness, with 92% of respondents saying it was extremely important or very important. Maintaining clean and safe spaces also was a priority, with 89% of respondents saying that it was extremely or very important.

As for how citizens view Visalia as a whole, the data gathered by FM3 Research indicated residents have a positive view of the direction the city is going in overall; however, those attitudes have worsened since 2016, when a similar survey was conducted. The most recent survey found that just 50% of respondents believe the city is headed in the right direction, compared to the 67% who responded positively in 2016. A total of 32% responded that the city is headed in the wrong direction, while 18% were undecided. 

Richard Bernard with FM3 Research posited that societal factors are likely to have impacted the outlook by the public.

“Since 2016, we have had COVID, we’ve had the highest CPI rate in 40 years, we’ve had the unfortunate incidents in Minneapolis with George Floyd, and we have changed methodologies,” Bernard said. “In 2016 we did the survey entirely on the telephone and now we do it both on the phone and online.” 

In the next town over, in the city of Tulare, the town voted in 2020 to allow recreational marijuana sales and have seen a boost to revenues as a result. At the latest Tulare City Council meeting on May 7, city staff presented an update to the budget outlook and showed that revenues from marijuana have increased by 200%, climbing from $2300,000 in 2023 to $900,000 projected for 2024. The revenue offsets a decrease of $979,199 in revenues from sales and use taxes. 

Additionally, the federal government recently began the process of declassifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which will create a pathway toward fewer restrictions and will allow cannabis industries access to banking firms they previously have not had.

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