Pubdate: Sun, 15 Jun 2014
Source: Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)
Copyright: 2014 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Author: Susan K. Livio


TRENTON - Medical marijuana will indeed be a cash crop in the Garden State.

The Christie administration has determined New Jersey's 7 percent 
sales tax will apply every time a pre-screened patient buys marijuana 
from an approved dispensary, state Treasury spokesman Andrew Pratt 
said late today.

The decision could remove the last roadblock to launching New 
Jersey's medical marijuana program.

The one dispensary that will soon be able to sell marijuana, 
Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, was holding off on opening 
and scheduling patients for appointments until the sales tax issue 
was decided, one of its co-founders, Joe Stevens, told The 
Star-Ledger earlier this month.

Stevens could not be reached for comment tonight.

State Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner today said the 
decision to wait for Treasury's ruling was Greenleaf's alone. "They 
were told there would be no penalty for their moving forward and that 
the sales tax would not be collected retroactively," she said.

The state has approved 318 patients to participate in the medical 
marijuana program so far, with 138 more in the application and 
screening process, Leusner said.

It has taken nearly three years since former Gov. Jon Corzine signed 
the medical marijuana law for implementation to get this far. The 
program was delayed by battles between Gov. Chris Christie and the 
Legislature over how it should be run, as well as problems with 
reluctant local politicians and vetting officials of some of the dispensaries.

Pratt said the Christie administration decided taxing medical pot 
"was in line with the legislative intent" when Corzine signed it.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari, one of the law's sponsors, agreed.

"They asked me and I told them, 'Yeah, it was our intent' " to tax 
it, said Scutari, adding he was happy to hear it was resolved "so we 
can get this going. I just wanted the issue decided ... and I think 
Greenleaf needed an answer."

Scutari said if the program "gets off the ground it could be a real 
money-maker for the state." But it's unclear how much revenue medical 
marijuana sales will generate, because prices will be set by 
dispensaries and only a limited number of people sick enough to 
qualify will be able to participate.

A study by the state Treasury Department in Vermont - which has four 
dispensaries - reported California was on track to collect at least 
$58 million in sales tax in 2012, and that Colorado collected $5 
million last year.

Jay Lassiter, an HIV positive Cherry Hill resident who is registered 
in the medical marijuana program, called Treasury's decision another 
one of many "baby steps" toward implementing the law.

Lassiter, who repeatedly testified for the bill in legislative 
hearings, said he had always assumed the drug would be taxed.

"This is what brought the conservatives on board" when the bill 
passed, he said. "I do see how medical cannabis can contribute in a 
meaningful way to our state's bottom line."

But Lassiter also noted that no medicine recommended by a doctor is 
taxed. "I can afford the luxury. But for someone with cancer, don't 
they have enough on their plate?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom