“No man's life, liberty, or property are safe
while the legislature
is in session”
The great American author might have added medical marijuana to the list of endangerments as can be seen by the raft of bills being considered by the California legislature. From taxes to smoking in an apartment, everything seemed to be on the table and most of it was not palatable to medical marijuana patients.
20 years after California’s landmark Prop. 215 passed, the state legislature finally got around to passing comprehensive legislation known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA). This obnoxious piece of legislation sought to enact statewide regulations for the cultivation, distribution and use of medical marijuana. Replacing for the most part the mostly incongruous SB 420, MMRSA is unfair, expensive and unwieldly. As its implementation in 2017 approaches, mmj patients are going to have to learn to live with it.
It would be wholly unrealistic to expect anything good would come from MMRSA and not surprisingly most of the bills introduced in the 2016 legislature showcased just how bad MMRSA was and how the legislature could make it even worse.
Jumping into the fray were over 150 medical marijuana patients and advocates from throughout California at Americans for Safe Access’s annual Citizen’s Lobby Day in Sacramento. Although ASA’s intrepid multitude were outflanked by law enforcement and their lackeys in the League of California Cities, legislators from both sides of the aisle were lobbied on 14 bills that will affect medical marijuana patients.
Some of the bills were fairly innocuous such as AB 26 requiring employees of medical marijuana dispensaries to receive competency education. Others were helpful such as SB 1116 which would allow the Board of Equalization to waive the 10% penalty imposed on dispensaries because they cannot write checks and must pay in cash.
However, most were neither innocuous nor helpful, but were downright awful. AB 2243 would impose a weight tax on the amount of marijuana purchased and SB 987 would enact a 15% excise tax on marijuana purchases. This would increase the overall tax burden on the legal purchase of medical marijuana to 30% or more.
The absolute worst bill for medical and recreational marijuana users was AB 2740, a DUI bill which would place a per se impairment on anyone driving with 5ng/ml or more THC in their blood – a level based on absolutely no scientific evidence and so low as to make it impossible for almost anyone to drive long after all effects have dissipated.
I along with four other IE residents attended and with the other 150+ attendees visited our state legislators’ offices. Although all bills were on the table, the main ones lobbied on were the tax bills and the DUI bill.
IE residents Debbie Reimers, Victor Michel and myself meet with the Legislative Directors of IE Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-42nd AD), State Senator Jeff Stone (R-28th SD) and State Senator Jean Fuller (R-16th SD). In all three cases we were welcomed warmly and treated with respect. All three staff members were of the opinion that their boss would not support the tax increases, but were far more circumspect regarding the DUI bill and not opining on how their bosses would vote.
Was the lobbying by us and the other attendees successful? Hard to tell but on Friday, the Senate and Assembly Appropriation Committees gavels fell on some of the bills while others were anointed for further consideration.
The Appropriate Committees hold these sessions, known as Suspense Hearings, twice during each annual legislative session to decide whether or not bills that have a financial impact of $150,000 or more will proceed to a vote on the floor. Bills sent to the floor for a vote have a chance of moving forward towards adoption. Bills held in committee are dead for the year.
It should come as no surprise that the Committees approved and moved along the legislative process the two bills that would increase taxes on medical marijuana, but they killed the DUI bill. Perhaps they were concerned that if the DUI bill got passed, people would consume less marijuana which would lower the tax money taken in from the two bills that increased taxes.
The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), the legalization initiative that appears likely to be on the November ballot has similar tax increases and if it passes, the taxes in AUMA would supplant the taxes in these two bills so there would not be an additional tax on medical marijuana. AUMA does toss a bone to mmj patients by eliminating the 8.5% sales tax for mmj patients that have the state issued ID card.
Many feel that since no sales tax is assessed on prescription medication that no tax should be imposed on medical marijuana either. Although that seems eminently fair, the problem is that only doctor prescribed medications are free of taxation. Over-the-counter medications like aspirin and ibuprofen are still taxed. Marijuana is not a “prescribed’ medication – it is a “recommended” medication. State law only exempts “prescribed” medications and that is why OTC medications and marijuana pay sales taxes.
This conundrum could be resolved by moving marijuana from CSA Schedule I (no accepted usage) to Schedule II (high potential for abuse, can be prescribed but strictly controlled) as is being advocated by some. If that happened then doctors could write prescriptions and no sales tax would be imposed.
Of course that means only licensed pharmaceutical companies likes Pfizer and Merck could produce and distribute marijuana. This would guarantee continuing high prices plus the requirement to get a doctor’s prescription which would keep the medicine expensive and more difficult to obtain as doctors are kept under the watchful eye of the DEA if they write too many prescriptions for Schedule II drugs.
Growing your own will also most likely be prohibited if marijuana is put in schedule II. For those who do cultivate their own, penalties could be significantly higher. Methamphetamines are on Schedule II but you can get way longer fines and jail times for its production then marijuana which is on Schedule I.
The one silver lining in the cloud with the usurious excise and weight tax bills is that a 2/3rd’s vote is required for the passage of any tax increases which is a fairly high bar. Republicans are supposed to be opposed to any tax increases. Hopefully they will feel that this opposition would also apply to marijuana, but whether it might be seen as a “sin” tax and hence appropriate for taxation even by Republicans remains to be seen.
Other bills passed by Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees include AB 1575 which makes relatively neutral changes to MMRSA’s licensing and regulation requirements and AB 2516 which creates a new “cottage cultivator” license for smaller-scale cultivators.
The tax votes are going to be a close so it would be a good idea to undertake a bit of personal responsibility in preventing these taxes from happening by keeping any eye on these newsletters for the appropriate time and method to contact your state legislators.
Protect Your Access
at June MAPP Meetings
There could be no better way in the IE for you to affect state and local laws affecting medical marijuana patients and marijuana law reform advocates than to attend one of the three MAPP meetings being held in the first week of June. All three meetings feature presentations, discussions, networking and milk and cookies so take a couple hours and come to one of the meetings below.
Riverside/Western IE MAPP meeting – Wednesday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m.
On November 4, 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47, a law that changed certain low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors. The savings from reduced incarceration costs will be invested into drug and mental health treatment, programs for at-risk students in K-12 schools, and victim services. Individuals with a prior felony record for many low-level, nonviolent offenses or who are currently serving time may qualify to change their record or their sentence to a misdemeanor. Is it going as planned or is there problems as many police agencies are claiming? Vonya Quarles, Executive Director, Starting Over an organization will address the issue Is Proposition 47 Working? and will present the latest evidence plus provide information on how Starting Over is making Prop. 47 work.
The meeting takes place at THCF Patient Center, 647 Main St. Unit 4D, Riverside 92501. Everyone is invited to also attend the Brownie Mary Democratic Club meeting preceding the MAPP meeting at 6 p.m.
Palm Springs/ Coachella Valley MAPP meeting - Saturday, June 4 at 12 noon
Crystal Fantasy is presenting a Medical Cannabis Education Day with special showings and events. Our MAPP meeting is part of this special day with information on new research on the therapeutic benefits and uses of marijuana.
Meeting to be held at Crystal Fantasy, 268 N. Palm Canyon, downtown Palm Springs 92262. Everyone is invited to also attend the Brownie Mary Democrats meeting preceding the MAPP meeting at 11:30 a.m.
Yucca Valley/Joshua Tree MAPP meeting - Saturday, June 4 at 3 p.m.
I will be presenting an illustrated presentation on ASA’s Citizen Lobby Day along with an analysis of the future of state medical marijuana legislation with an in-depth discussion on my meeting with 42nd AD Assemblyman Chad Mayes.
Meeting to be held at the fabled Beatnik Lounge, 61597 Twenty-Nine Palms Hwy., Joshua Tree 92252.
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