Employing a Homeric reference, the Supreme Court today holds in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland that a state constitutional provision, which was added by initiative to limit the taxing power of “local governments,” does not affect the ability of voters themselves to impose taxes by initiative.  In the

Ulysses and the Sirens

court’s 5-2 opinion, Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar writes, “Only by approving a measure that is unambiguous in its purpose to restrict the electorate’s own initiative power can the voters limit such power, tying themselves to the proverbial mast as Ulysses did.”  (See here.)  (In another flourish, the opinion calls the early 20th Century advent of the initiative power “a political earthquake.”)

The tax in question was a $75,000 annual licensing and inspection fee included in a City of Upland initiative to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.  The initiative was soundly defeated last November, but the Supreme Court exercises its discretion to decide the “technically moot” case.  The constitutional provision (added by Proposition 218) that the court today finds inapplicable, among other things, dictates the timing of elections to approve taxes imposed by “local governments.”

Justice Leondra Kruger, joined by Justice Goodwin Liu, writes a concurring and dissenting opinion.  The majority, which spends considerable time responding to Justice Kruger’s opinion, concludes that “the common understanding of local government does not readily lend itself to include the electorate, instead generally referring to a locality’s governing body, public officials, and bureaucracy.”  Justice Kruger, on the other hand, believes that “[a] tax passed by voter initiative, no less than a tax passed by vote of the city council, is a tax of the local government, to be collected by the local government, to raise revenue for the local government.”  Alluding to the majority’s literary reference, Justice Kruger writes, “And so in the name of cutting the voters loose from their self-imposed restraints, the majority thwarts the evident intent of the voters who passed Proposition 218 for the sake of governing all local taxes, not just some.”

The court affirms the Fourth District, Division Two, Court of Appeal.