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Cannabis tax enforcement becomes a problem for Cal City

City council has consensus for maximum enforcement; new interim city manager will need to find tax administrator as next step
Posted at 9:18 AM, Nov 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 12:18:38-05
  • In this video, Cal City Mayor Pro Tem Ron Smith says that cannabis tax enforcement and odor mitigation have become problems.
  • Cal City Interim City Manager Michele Martinez is delegated to provide direction and find a tax administrator.


Great expectations surrounded California City when it became the first in Kern County to permit cannabis cultivation commercially.

Some expected upwards of $10 million for the city each year, with others dreaming of Cal City becoming the Napa Valley of cannabis. But so far, that hasn't materialized.

“For the first quarter of 2023-24, we got less than $100,000 in cannabis taxes paid. That is … that is preposterous!" said Ron Smith, California City's Mayor Pro Tem.

Ron Smith, the mayor pro tem, says the cannabis tax money that came in was around $98,000, not even enough to pay for attorney and compliance fees. Enforcing taxes and odor mitigation are among the problems for Cal City seven years after it decided to hop aboard the weed wagon.

“Our citizens were made some promises that need to be fulfilled," Smith said.

He says approximately half a million dollars in cannabis taxes can be gained.

Royal Apothecary is among the few who have paid their taxes recently.

New interim city manager Michele Martinez is providing direction. She was delegated that role during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“This is a city that is running lean and mean, and so certainly whatever we need to do to fulfill the position in regards to the tax administrator, who is the person that has to fulfill those duties,” Martinez said.

Cal City has had just one tax administrator for cannabis.

That was earlier this year when acting city manager Inge Elmes absorbed the role briefly before going back to her post as the city’s off-highway vehicle manager.

Recouping cannabis tax money could help a city that is struggling fiscally.

“It’s enraging citizens that they’re being asked to pay a special tax when we’re not going full bore. And that’s the policy of the council: maximum enforcement and we’re not doing it. It must be done," Smith said.

There is uncertainty for Martinez’ duration in Cal City. Her salary during a crucial first month is a yearly wage of $185,000 and then bumps to $200,000 per year effective Dec. 14 if a permanent city manager has not been found. Despite that, Martinez is determined to steer Cal City onto a better path.

“What I hear a lot is about ‘What’s wrong with California City?’ I wanna hear what’s good about California City. In my short time here I’ve seen a lot of good things. I think there are a lot of caring residents in this community. You have a compassionate mayor and council. You have compassionate staff members. You have compassionate business people. Some people care,” Martinez said.

Martinez says finding a tax administrator is challenging, especially considering it’s a part-time position.

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