Jul 24 2009

Selling out the medical marijuana movement

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Oaksterdamn U supports Taxing Medicine
Oakland’s Measure F

Justin Hartfield, who owns weedmaps.com, a “medical” marijuana dispensary listing and referral website that pulls down $250,000 per year, told the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal this week that medical marijuana is “a joke” and he lied  to his doctor to get his recommendation.

Weedmaps is a founder of The Dispensary Defense Group, headed by Richard Cowan, former Director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Five days after the first article on the 18th, Mickey Martin announced a boycott of the site and its advertisers, characterizing it as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  He wrote, “As a community, we must put an end to this sensationalist and ill-conceived notion that patients are scamming the system like Mr. Hartfield.”

Justin Hartfield responded to Mr. Martin’s call for a boycott by stating he never said “there is no real medical value to cannabis” but instead said “the medical system is a total farce” because “it just needs to be legal”.  He admits to “exaggerating” his medical problems to his doctor and to owing him an apology for his “candor” to the press but he believes every adult “should have immediate access to cannabis for medical problems that might arise when they could not get to a doctor to get a card.”

Coincidentally, the week before Mr. Hartfield’s startling revelations to the press, Richard Cowan and Kaya Compassion announced it had become a founding member of the Dispensary Defense Group, of which Weedmaps.com is also founder.

Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory

On Tuesday the city of Oakland passed by 80% Measure F, a precedent setting tax on medical marijuana, ostensibly for the good of the movement, though no one has been able to explain exactly how this is supposed to benefit patients, or how taxing medicine legitimizes dispensaries, patients, the movement, or anything else.

Speaking of NORML, they think this is just ducky.  Allen St. Pierre, current director of NORML, had this to say, “The passage of this first-in-the-nation tax further legitimizes cannabis-based enterprises in Oakland and elsewhere.  These outlets are contributing to the health and welfare of their local communities, both socially and now economically. At a time when many municipalities are strapped for tax revenues and cutting public services it is likely that public officials in other cities will begin considering similar proposals.”

Joseph R. Pietri, long a cannabis advocate and critic of NORML, commented on Facebook that the four Oakland marijuana dispensaries responsible could just as easily have put legalization for all on the ballot and it would have passed by 90%.  “Instead they tax patients, give the money to the City, and politically empower the clinics who are like the Dutch and prefer the status quo.”  He points out that patients are now being taxed twice, once by the state and once by the city.  He believes that NORML’s support for Oakland’s tax on medical marijuana proves that NORML has been working against the legalization of marijuana all along.

Richard Steeb is also not so enthusiastic.  On the Los Angeles Times poll regarding a proposed city tax in Los Angeles on medical marijuana he wrote (emphasis his), “MEDICINE should NEVER be taxed; that constitutes gouging the ill.”  He went on to say, “LEGALIZE it, and THEN tax its sale wherever whiskey and cigars are available. And give physician-certificated patients a TAX EXEMPTION.  Ethics is ethics.”

“That cost goes to the patient. The patient is already on social security, they’re on disability,” said Lanette Davies with the Canna Care Clinic in North Sacramento, regarding the announcement that Oakland’s great victory had inspired Sacramento to consider charging the sick and dying tax on the money they pay for medicine.

This is as good a place as any to note that Tom Ammiano’s state tax as described in AB 390 (which legalizes marijuana in California) specifically exempts medical marijuana from his $50/ounce surcharge.  A distinction that virtually none of the media have made or seem to think is important.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) states on their website that they have opposed taxing medical marijuana “from the beginning”.  They state their two main reasons for this are:  1) it is regressive and has the potential to significantly increase cost, and 2) the requirement to provide receipts would violate the constitutional right against self incrimination.

When the issue of paying state sales tax came before the state Board of Equalization (BOE) in 2005 ASA argued that in addition to the constitutional issues, medicine should not be taxed;  that marijuana is medicine and dispensaries are health care facilities and therefore, “Medical Marijuana Sales By Dispensaries Are Exempt from Taxation Under Revenue and Taxation Code § 6369(a)(3).”

BOE Issue Paper 05-009 determined that medical marijuana and dispensaries do not meet the legal definition of medicine and health care facilities and therefore are subject to state sales tax.  This is primarily because it is classified Schedule I by the federal government.  The first provision in Barney Frank’s HR 2835, The Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, is to reclassify cannabis to Schedule II.  This would enable doctors to prescribe it, rather than “recommend” it, thereby legally defining cannabis as medicine.

During a recent discussion in ASA’s forum they pointed out that while prescription medications are not taxed in California, over the counter medications are.

Angela McDonald doesn’t see the Oakland tax as any victory either.  In her article Oregon takes honest approach to marijuana tax of 23 Jul 09, she refers to Oakland’s tax as “tax trickery” and points out that Oregon’s Cannabis Tax Act, which would legalize and tax marijuana for adults, exempts medical patients from the tax.  As does Californian’s AB 390.

The Tip Of The Iceberg

Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “… we hope the rest of the state will follow their lead. The politicians need to listen to the wisdom of the voters. Taxing medical marijuana is a no brainer and fiscally makes sense for a cash-strapped state like California. But this is the tip of the iceberg,” added Thomas. “Once Californians see the benefits of taxing and regulating medical marijuana in Oakland, the next logical step is to tax and regulate all marijuana revenue across the state.”

Richard Lee, of Oaksterdamn U, one of the 4 dispensaries that organized to tax the sales of medicine to the sick and dying in Oakland, told the New York Times today that he will be introducing a bill to tax and legalize marijuana “this week” – Monday, July 27th.  In it’s current version (Draft 14) it will “Ensure that if a city decides not to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis, that buying and selling cannabis within that city’s limits remain illegal.”  Nowhere in this draft is there any mention of any exemption for medical patients.

In the margins the draft says “Draft, not for circulation or attribution.”  Why not?  Given that Tom Ammiano has already introduced a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana at the state level, and this bill exempts medical patients from the tax and does not prohibit the non-taxed sale, one must assume Mr. Lee has promoted and introduced his bill with the express purpose of screwing over medical patients.

One thing is clear, the sick and dying can’t do enough for recreational users.  As a patient myself, I feel like I’ve just been mugged.

For more info:
I’m totally not understanding this California Sales Tax – Americans for Safe Access forum
The Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act – The Library of Congress
Marijuana Legalization:  Help for California Budget Woes? – Time | 24 Jul 09
Sacramento to Consider Pot Tax – News 10 | 23 Jul 09
Boycott Weedmaps.com and their advertisers – TComp Consulting | 23 Jul 09
With ‘Med Pot’ Raids Halted, Selling Grass Grows Greener – The Wall Street Journal | 23 Jul 09
Oakland Voters Approve Nation’s First Marijuana  Business Tax – NORML Blog | 22 Jul 09
Tax Prozac, not medical marijuana – examiner.com | 20 Jul 09
California sprouts ‘green rush’ from marijuana – The San Jose Mercury News | 18 Jul 09
California sprouts ‘green rush” from marijuana – The Huffington Post | 18 Jul 09
Kaya Compassion Medical Marijauan Dispensary’s new Pricing Policy – PRWeb | 11 Jul 09
Medical marijuana and artists grants – examiner.com | 8 Jul 09
Sales Tax – California Campaign for Safe Access
The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation

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