OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — 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.
Currently, retail sales of medical cannabis are subject to sales tax. The measure heard in the House would add an excise tax above and beyond what the dispensaries are already supposed to be collecting.
The state Department of Revenue has listed more than 50 medical marijuana dispensaries that collected and submitted sales taxes last year, but spokesman Mike Gowrylow said there are countless others in existence that have not submitted sales tax.
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 government.
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.