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California boosts pot taxes, shocking unsteady industry

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LOS ANGELES — California is increasing business tax rates on legal marijuana, a move that stunned struggling companies that have been pleading with the state to do just the opposite.

Hefty marijuana taxes that can approach 50 percent in some communities have been blamed for pushing shoppers into California’s tax-free illegal market, which is thriving. Industry analysts estimate that $3 are spent in the illegal market for every $1 in the legal one.

The California Cannabis Industry Association said in a statement that its members are “stunned and outraged.”

The group said the higher taxes that will take effect Jan. 1 will make it even worse for a legal industry struggling under the weight of heavy regulation and fees, local bans on pot sales and growing and a booming underground marketplace.

“Widening the price ... gap between illicit and regulated products will further drive consumers to the illicit market at a time when illicit products are demonstrably putting people’s lives at risk,” the group said, referring to the national vaping health crisis.

The changes involve taxes paid by legal businesses, which ultimately get passed along to consumers at the retail counter.

Josh Drayton of the cannabis association predicted that an eighth-ounce purchase of marijuana buds, typically priced around $40 to $45, would be pushed up to $50 or more in the new year.

For consumers, “ultimately, they’ll feel that at the register,” Drayton said.

A major change involves what’s known as the mark-up rate, which is used when calculating taxes in certain business transactions, such as when a retailer purchases wholesale cannabis that will in turn be sold to consumers. The mark-up rate is being pushed up over 30 percent.

Separately, cultivation tax rates are being increased by inflation, as required by law. For example, the tax on an ounce of dry buds will climb to $9.65 from $9.25, an increase of just over 4 percent.

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