Pubdate: Tue, 19 Feb 2013
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2013 Associated Press
Author: Rachel La Corte, Associated Press


OLYMPIA - More than a dozen people, many of them medical marijuana 
patients or providers, testified Monday against a measure to tax 
medical marijuana dispensaries, an effort to undermine any black 
market when sale of state taxed recreational marijuana starts at the 
end of this year.

The bill, which had a public hearing before the House Finance 
Committee, would hit dispensaries with a tax equal to 25 percent of 
their sales of cannabis and cannabis-infused products.

The bill sponsors have said they're trying to avoid a dual market - 
one taxed, one not - as the state moves toward creating a regulated 
system for the fledgling marijuana industry created by Initiative 502.

In November, voters approved the initiative that allows adults over 
age 21 to have up to an ounce of pot. The state is due to start 
issuing licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, 
with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage.

"If we don't equalize taxes, we run an even greater risk of a black 
market and we set the stage for substantial market distortions," Rep. 
Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the 
measure, said after the hearing.

Prescription medications aren't taxed in Washington, and those in the 
medical marijuana community have argued that because medical 
marijuana requires a doctor's authorization, it should fall into that category.

"The medical and the recreational need to be treated in two 
different, completely separate categories," said Stephanie Viskovich, 
director of the Cannabis Action Coalition and president of a 
collective garden who is also a medical marijuana patient.

Pharmacies licensed by the Department of Health are exempt from the 
tax under the measure. But because marijuana is currently classified 
as a Schedule 1 drug, it's not accepted for medical treatment and 
can't be prescribed, administered or dispensed.

Carlyle said that the pharmacy exemption was included for the 
possibility that marijuana is ultimately reclassified by the federal 

Washington voters approved a medical marijuana law in 1998 that gives 
doctors the right to recommend - but not prescribe - marijuana for 
people suffering from cancer and other conditions that cause 
"intractable pain."

Medical patients are allowed to grow their own 15 plants or designate 
someone else to grow for them, and true community gardens of up to 45 
plants and 10 patients are allowed under current law. None of that 
would change under the measure heard Monday.

In 2011, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln 
Chafee filed a petition with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration 
asking the agency to reclassify marijuana. If marijuana were listed 
as a Schedule 2 drug, it would be able to officially be used for 
medical treatment, and pharmacists could dispense the drug.

Opponents argued that the rate of taxation was unfair, especially to 
low-income people who need it as part of their health care.

"We need to bring the price of medical cannabis down for medical 
marijuana patients, not up," said Ezra Eickmeyer with the Washington 
Cannabis Association. "It would certainly be a mistake to do anything 
that increases the cost of medicine to sick patients."

Carlyle said the bill is a first draft, and he'll continue to work to 
refine it, but expects that some version of the bill will pass out of 
his committee.

The state Liquor Control Board is in the process of developing rules 
for the new industry, possibly including such measures as digital 
tracking of inventory to prevent diversion to the black market. Sales 
are set to begin late this year.

The bill is one of several marijuana-related measures pending in 
Olympia. One would allow anyone with a misdemeanor pot conviction to 
have their record cleared and another would protect medical marijuana 
patients from arrest.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom