Medical Marijuana: Is it Good for the Taxman or Is it Good for the Doctor?
|Whereas California needs money from pot|
But growing this cash crop could become even more costly and no safer under new legislation introduced by a Southern California state senator earlier this month.
The proposed legislation, which is the brainchild of State Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), would require growers, transporters, and sellers of medical marijuana to obtain a permit to do business. According to the proposal, California's cannabis cultivators would be required to pay $1,300 for a state-growers permit under the Cannabis Certification and Regulation Act of 2011. Likewise, anyone distributing or transporting medical marijuana would have to obtain a similar license from the state Board of Equalization.
And then they would have to pay upfront a chunk of their sales taxes, just as tobacco transporters and sellers do.
But patient advocates are apoplectic, saying that the scheme burdens cannabis producers with more costs while ensuring absolutely no legal protection.
Directly modeled after the Cigarette and Tobacco Products
Licensing Act of 2003, Calderon's plan would supposedly ensure product safety and
compliance by tracking every ounce of medical marijuana that's grown and sold in the state. The
little California golden bear stamp that's found on every pack of cigarettes would also be
marked on marijuana -- and cops would make sure of this.
Adam Gray, Calderon's senior
policy aide, points to an unnamed dispensary in Los Angeles that sold marijuana with the banned pesticide DDT on it.
"Where did that [cannabis] come from?" Gray asks rhetorically. "There's still a large black market out there."
There is no language in the 20-page bill that mandates -- or even suggests -- that marijuana be tested in a lab before it's sold at retail. Also, there's no legal protection for the folks who would be growing, transporting and selling medicine -- and who would have the tax stamps as proof.
"It's insane," said David Goldman, who sits on San Francisco's Medical Cannabis Task Force. "How do you prepay sales tax when you don't even know what you're going to sell it for? Where is our legal protection?"
"This is putting safe access [to medical cannabis] very much at risk," said Goldman, who is also head of the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a patients' advocacy group. "This is like having the Sword of Damocles halfway down on our necks."
It just so happens that this would also help out the state's financial crisis -- a deficit currently pegged at $26 billion. The new law would ensure that all taxes be paid on any medical marijuana transaction.
Activists like Goldman and California NORML worked to defeat Calderon's similar scheme last year. Yet this time around, Calderon is getting help from within the medical cannabis industry: A group dubbed the California Cannabis Association has signed onto the plan, according to Gray.
But Calderon's legislation has some competition.
State Sen. Luis "Lou" Correa (D - Santa Ana) has proposed a plan that prescribes fees, not taxes, to fund a regulatory system. It also puts regulation of the distribution network under the purview of the Department of Public Health, not the Board of Equalization.
And this makes Correa's plan the "better" of the two,
according to Matthew Cohen, the executive director of Northstone Organics, a Ukiah-based medical
marijuana farm-to-door delivery service.
Other cannabis advocates agree. Correa's bill does not require transporters to pay for a permit and it does not exclude growers with a felony record from the state's medical marijuana industry, as Calderon's does.
It's better than expected, writes Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, in a recent issue of West Coast Leaf.
It's entirely possible that neither bill will pass, although if we were betting bloggers, we'd short Calderon and long Correa.
But the point is that the two bills represent two major diverging schools of thought when it comes to the state's marijuana industry: Is medical cannabis medicine for the doctor, or goods for the taxman?
Is it a public health issue, or is it a public safety issue?
But for the cannabis users and cultivators, who for decades have had to worry about those dreaded knocks on the door, nurses will always trump the cops.