California Constitutional Law: Interpreting Restrictions on the Initiative Power, 51 UC Davis L. Rev. Online 65 (2017)
On August 28, 2017, the California Supreme Court decided California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland. Justice Cuéllar wrote the opinion, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Werdegar, Chin,and Corrigan. Justice Kruger wrote separately to concur in part and dissent in part; Justice Liu joined that opinion.
The basic facts of the case are these. A local initiative in the city of Upland proposed to require marijuana dispensaries to pay a city fee. The proponents wanted voters to consider the initiative at a special election. The city concluded that the fee would exceed the actual costs, so it constituted a general tax. To the city, this meant that the initiative could not be voted on during a special election; instead, under article XIII C, section 2 of the California constitution, the measure had to be submitted to the voters at the next general election. This provision of the constitution requires that all (general) tax increases imposed by a local government be submitted to the voters at a general election. So if a city council (like Upland’s) proposes a tax increase, then it must follow the Proposition 218 rule and wait for the next general election. The question posed by this case was whether this rule also applies to general tax measures the voters put on the ballot. The California Supreme Court decided that this provision does not restrain voter initiatives. Therefore, if the voters propose the increase of a general tax, then a vote on the tax can occur at a special election.