Medical marijuana patients in California may soon find themselves paying more for the healthcare they need.
The state Senate voted in June to approve a new sales tax on legal medicinal cannabis. At 15 percent, the tax is projected to generate roughly $250 million per year, money that would go toward public park projects, drug treatment programs, and general state spending needs.
The legislation was sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Mike McGuire, who said the bill would also raise revenue for local governments to enforce their own marijuana laws. The Senate approved the legislation by a vote of 27-9, and it now moves to the California General Assembly.
Bill amendment to remove tax for low-income patients
McGuire has said he’ll amend his bill by the time it reaches the Assembly so low-income patients won’t have to pay the tax. But critics have other problems with his proposed law.
California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996 when they passed the Compassionate Use Act by public referendum. Their state was the first to approve MMJ, and its lawmakers have never imposed a tax on pot as medicine.
That approach tracks with prescribed medications, which are also sold tax-free. Adding a sales tax to medical marijuana would make it harder for low- and middle-income patients to afford a medication that could be their best treatment option.
Marijuana is known to be effective in treating numerous health conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and childhood epilepsy. It is also typically very expensive, since insurance plans don’t cover it.
But many lawmakers see medicinal cannabis as an untapped source of revenue. The state faces a multitude of serious problems – most notably an ongoing drought and homelessness in large cities – that could be alleviated with some of that money.
City officials in Los Angeles, for example, have discussed a similar local tax that would pay for efforts to fight homelessness there.
Voter’s expected to legalize for any use in November
With or without McGuire’s bill, the state will likely reap a major tax windfall from medical marijuana. Voters are likely to legalize the drug for any adult use in the November election, and the ballot initiative would impose a 15 percent tax and both recreational and medical sales.
Drug policy reformers will likely protest the medical marijuana tax passed by lawmakers, but the levy is likely coming one way or another. For the time being at least, it may simply be a cost of making MMJ available, if hopefully one that doesn’t last long.
Cannabis is a critical medical treatment for many California patients, and taxing them for that medicine would make it harder for them to get it. The state may need the money, but there are better ways to find it.
Tell us what you think. Should California tax medical marijuana? What happens to low-income patients if their prices increase? Leave a comment.