Friday, November 30, 2012

Taxing medical marijuana ill-advised

The Christie administration’s decision to tax the sale of medical marijuana is ill-advised. Neither the law nor the regulations to enact the law call for such a tax.  In fact, the New Jersey Division of Taxation’s Technical Bulletin issued 2/16/10 clearly notes that, “Effective October 1, 2005, all drugs for human use, including prescribed drugs and over-the-counter drugs are exempt from sales and use tax.”

Medical marijuana in New Jersey’s strictly regulated Medicinal Marijuana Program is most like a prescription medicine.  Physicians will write their recommendation for a specific and limited amount of marijuana; patients will take that recommendation to a licensed Alternative Treatment Center (ATC); the ATC will dispense that specific amount of marijuana to the patient; the patient may only return to the ATC at specified intervals for refills; and, there are penalties for misuse of the marijuana that the patient receives.

Prescription drugs are not subject to sales tax in New Jersey and neither should medical marijuana be subject to this tax.

It has been said that the original sponsor of the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, Senator Nicholas Scutari, “had in mind” to tax medical marijuana, though he never included that language in the bill.  Well, we know that Sen. Scutari had a lot of things in mind when he introduced that legislation—things that would actually help patients, and guarantee implementation of the bill.  Some of the things Sen. Scutari wanted that were included in the bill that passed the entire state Senate by a vote of 22 - 16 on February 23, 2009 were:
All chronic pain patients would qualify, not just cancer and AIDS patients;
Out-of-state ID cards would be recognized and respected;
Patients could grow 6 plants each to guarantee access to the drug.

None of these things were included in the final version of the law, which passed about a year later in January 2010.  Instead only restrictions and impediments were placed in the path of patient access.  These were followed by burdensome and unnecessary regulations that have kept this safe and effective medicine from desperately ill patients whose suffering could be eased by it.

I worked for the State of New Jersey for over 25 years.  I started working for the Department of State for two summers while I was still in high school in the 1960’s.  In the 1970’s I worked for the Department of Human Services for four years.  Between 1984 and 2006 I worked for the Department of Corrections.  If I learned nothing else in all that time with the state, it was, “If it wasn’t documented, it wasn’t done.”

Nowhere is there documentation that the state expected to collect taxes from the sale of medical marijuana.  It is not included in the original Compassionate Use Act that was introduced in 2005, and it is not included in the final version of the Act that passed into law in January 2010.  Nor is there any mention of the collection of sales tax in the 100 plus pages of regulations that were adopted by the Department of Health to enact this law.  Nor is there anything about sales taxes in the regulations adopted by the Board of Medical Examiners.

This is another example of an arbitrary and capricious burden that is being put on the patients who qualify for this program.  It takes its place with other rules from the Christie administration —like the physician registry, the 10% cap on THC, and the micromanagement of ATC’s--that guarantee limited patient access, sub-standard marijuana, and high cost to the patient.  If, that is, the program ever gets working in the first place.

Governor Christie has repeatedly exceeded his constitutional powers in interfering with a law that he does not agree with. Adding a sales tax on medical marijuana is another example of this.


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