Although California state cannabis revenues are required to be reinvested in communities affected by the War on Drugs, local tax revenues are often spent on general government services and law enforcement, according to a new report on the use of cannabis tax revenues in Los Angeles County.
“Show Me the Money: Cannabis Revenue and Cities in Los Angeles County,” a report from Youth Forward and Catalyst California, also reveals that most local governments offer very little transparency over how cannabis revenues are spent.
“Proponents of Proposition 64 argued that, with legalization, local communities could expect cost savings in the form of reduced spending and scope of law enforcement,” wrote study authors Jim Keddy of Youth Forward and Myanna Khalfani-King of Catalyst California. “Disappointingly, we see the opposite: cities are using these dollars to fund city operations and are both directly and indirectly investing cannabis revenues in law enforcement.”
The report, which is clear on its perspective that cannabis revenues “must be spent to address past wrongs,” looks closely at nine cities in the Los Angeles area that allow for sales of cannabis and attempts to figure out how each of the cities spends its revenues, particularly, how much on law enforcement and how much to support “individuals and communities most harmed by past cannabis policy and the War on Drugs.”
The authors reviewed city budgets from 2017-2023, pulling from publicly available documents to find that generally, cannabis revenues are classified as general sales tax. The report also says that while many of the cities included specific areas to be funded by the money, they often include police or “public safety” and only “very few” cities have provided details on how exactly the money is allocated. It does, however, cite Los Angeles, Long Beach and Bellflower as being the most transparent in spending, though it notes that only small fractions of the cannabis revenues are broken out, while most go to general funds.
— Brian Beckley