Springfield voters will get the chance to decide this August whether there should be a 3% sales tax on recreational marijuana within city limits.
City Council unanimously voted to place the measure on the August ballot during a meeting Monday night. Revenue from sales of the drug would be earmarked for city public safety, housing, and substance abuse/mental health prevention and treatment.
The voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana last year sets a statewide sales tax of 6% on retail sales. The amendment allows municipalities and counties to impose an additional 3% percent tax within their borders, subject to voters' approval. Such taxes would be in addition to current state and local general sales taxes.
While council members agreed on sending the proposed tax to the voters, there was some disagreement on where revenue from the tax should go.
Citing a city survey, councilman Matthew Simpson said funds should go towards public safety and then housing.
"We need to invest in public safety. We need to make sure that we're investing in the top public priority," Simpson emphasized.
"We also have to make sure that we're investing in these upstream solutions to make sure that people get into permanent housing, to make sure that when dealing with mental health issues or dealing with substance abuse issues. And so this combination of public safety investments and those upstream investments, I think are gonna be really impactful for the community."
The study referenced by Simpson was conducted in 2021 to give city council guidance on how to appropriate emergency federal coronavirus funds into the community.
Residents were asked to rank different priorities on a five-point scale. The following is the percentage of surveyed residents who assigned a particular priority the highest ranking.
Public safety and crime prevention – 55%
Homeless and housing services – 40%
Community health and wellness – 37%
Premium pay for essential workers – 36%
Stabilizing and revitalizing neighborhoods – 29%
Quality of Life – 29%
Economic recovery and growth – 24%
Public facility preservation and enhancement – 22%
Councilwoman Monica Horton argued that council addressed public safety with the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding but not housing or homelessness assistance, which received funding from another federal grant.
"Speaking of the ARPA survey and the feedback that was provided, if I were to look at to what extent we adequately allocated funding towards those particular priorities, public safety certainly outweighed in terms of the allocation compared to housing. Other areas kind of fell short," Horton said in response to Simpson.
She added the body should make assisting those experiencing homelessness a "priority" for the coming years.
Several members of tenant advocacy organization Springfield Tenants Unite spoke at the meeting to make the same point.
"If you pass this bill tonight and voters agree to the tax in August, the funds that brings in will give Springfield an opportunity to create new policies that make our housing safer and more affordable," said organizer Alice Barber, who noted a disproportionate number of Springfieldians pay more than a third of their income in rent.
"We won't have public safety or good mental health or any of the other things that we want this tax to fund if everybody doesn't have a safe, healthy place to live. So we urge you to pass this bill and give residents the ability to choose whether to fund housing through this tax or through another means" she said.
"When solving issues like housing and public safety, consult with the people who must live with the policies created and not just the people who are going to profit off it. Tenants and working families in Springfield are clear on what we need — affordable, decent housing and enforcement of our rights to that housing. Springfield Tenants Unite supports putting this tax on the ballot because it will provide the funding to make those happen."
Many cities and counties across Missouri approved a recreational marijuana sales tax this April but Springfield held off to see how these other ballot initiatives fared. In southwestern Missouri, the tax measures were popular with voters. Residents in Christian, Webster, Polk, and Jasper counties as well as cities like Joplin and Ozark all said yes to local taxes on recreational marijuana. Several municipalities specified funds from the tax would address public safety or go directly in the coffers of the municipality's police force.
Greene County has also not yet imposed a recreational marijuana sales tax. Based on the language of Missouri's constitutional amendment, it is unclear if a city and a county's marijuana sales tax can stack over one another. The Missouri Department of Revenue has told news organizations it can't provide guidance and the matter is likely to be resolved in court.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Springfield voters to decide fate of marijuana sales tax this August