Pubdate: Mon, 03 Dec 2012
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2012 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Jan Hefler
Page: B3


Lawmakers Behind the Bill Say They Were Not Told About Imposing a
Sales Tax.

A lawmaker who was influential in getting New Jersey's medical
marijuana law passed said he was stunned by the Christie
administration's announcement last week that the drug would be taxed.

State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer), who spent five years
gathering support for the bill before it was enacted in 2010, said the
Treasury Department's rationale was jarring, given the history of the

Because the law was silent on whether the 7 percent sales tax could be
applied, treasury spokesman Andrew Pratt said the department had to
find out the "legislators' intent" when they drafted it.

"The sponsors agree it was their intention to tax the sale of
medicinal marijuana," he said.

But four of the five primary sponsors - including Gusciora - said they
were never consulted. They also said in interviews they never expected
the drug to be taxed nor did they believe it should be.

Prescription and over-the-counter medications are exempt from the
sales tax.

"If you use medical marijuana as a pharmaceutical, then you shouldn't
be taxed for it. ... You don't punish a person who's terminally ill
and needs the drug," Gusciora said.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union), another primary sponsor, has
a different recollection.

He said that before the law was signed, there were "very brief
discussions" about the potentially substantial revenue the state could
reap by taxing the drug. He also said he had a "casual conversation"
with the governor's counsel before the administration announced its
decision to impose a tax.

Because the law he helped draft did not specifically grant marijuana a
tax exemption, it would be subject to a sales tax, Scutari said.

For many of the 318 registered medical marijuana patients, the tax is
one more sign of the administration's insensitivity to their plight.
The law was enacted in January 2010, but the launch of the program has
been delayed numerous times.

So far, no dispensary has opened.

"This is an insult to patients, after they have waited so long," said
Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical
Marijuana-New Jersey, an advocate for the patients. "It's clearly
unfair. ... If you want money from marijuana, you need to legalize it
for recreational purposes, not tax people who are sick."

Gusciora recalled that when he first proposed a bill in 2004, he
included a provision for a sales tax. He hoped the prospect of new
revenue would sway legislators who otherwise were lukewarm to
legalizing medical marijuana.

"I was immediately shot down," he said. Representatives from both
parties told him taxing it would be a mistake because it could create
concern in the state's strong pharmaceutical industry that its drugs
might be taxed next.

Gusciora and Scutari were the sponsors of the earliest version of the
medical marijuana bill, in 2005. Winning support was difficult; later,
three others signed on as primary sponsors.

Scutari said legislators had engaged in "very brief discussions" about
the potential revenue a tax on marijuana could bring. In the long
term, he said, that amount could be significant.

But none of the other primary sponsors remembered any discussion of
the tax before the bill was passed, and they said the administration
didn't ask them what their intent was.

Asked about that, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak

"It's been made clear to us by the sponsors that they intended that."
He referred to Scutari and Declan O'Scanlon (R., Monmouth), a
medical-marijuana advocate who was not among the five primary sponsors
or the 15 cosponsors, as supporters of the tax.

The other primary sponsors were Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic),
Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R., Morris), and former
Assemblywoman Joan M. Voss (D., Bergen).

"I don't recall any discussions about it," Whelan said of the tax
issue. "I think the assumption was that this is medicine, and it would
be treated as medicine. ... You can't get it without a doctor's
recommendation, and have to go to a well-controlled dispensary."
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