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‘Medicine’ and taxes

In 1996, I met Dennis Peron, the face of Proposition 215, California’s medical marijuana initiative, at the Health and Harmony Fair at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Over the next few weeks, I visited his marijuana club on Market Street in San Francisco, met users and medical researchers and even discovered a farm in Oxford, Miss. – home of William Faulkner – that supplies marijuana to federally authorized users, including a half-dozen people who smoke pot for medical reasons.

I was persuaded that there’s medical potential in cannabis, and I still am. I’ve also written blogs and editorials critical of various aspects of California’s medical marijuana law – because this is either the least healthy place in the world or Proposition 215 is just a cover for recreational use. No need to guess where I come down on that one.

So here’s my latest screed … Sunday’s paper featured an article about the closure of the state’s oldest dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. According to the article, the pot club was one of the 10 top sources of sales tax revenue for the city of Fairfax. Sales tax revenue? I thought it was medicine. California doesn’t tax medicine.

So what’s with taxing pot? For cities and counties, it’s cash, of course. For the dealers, er, pharmacists, it has a faint odor of the Prohibition era. Before income taxes, the federal government was largely financed by taxes on alcohol. And brewers and distillers were all for it. With the government hooked on alcohol taxes, the temperance movement linked up with income tax advocates to pass the Sixteenth Amendment. For a compelling history and some interesting parallels with the marijuana movement, read Daniel Okrent’s “Last Call.”

– Jim Sweeney





16 Responses to “‘Medicine’ and taxes”

  1. Sarkyfish says:

    Canthisbe, they were all killed BECAUSE of marijuana. Got it?

  2. Lets be Reasonable says:

    If folks really want to lower crime in Mexico, they should legalize marijuana. It should be sold through the same outlets as alcohol, with the same restrictions. It should be taxed. Once legal, the cost to grow and distribute go way down, and there is no longer enough money in it to be worth the drug cartel’s time. It will be grown by the same companies that now grow tobacco. The State gets more money, and we will spend MUCH less on prisons. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but California has gone from spending something like 3% to around 7% of its budget on prisons – much of it due to marijuana convictions. This at the same time we’ve been reducing the percent going towards schools.
    .
    Sure, I think there are some benefits for some illness sufferers, but clearly the current law is just making it ‘legal’ for a number of recreation users. There are also health risks. Any time you smoke something you increase your chance of getting cancer, and there is evidence that persons prone to psychotic incidences increase their chances of developing psychosis. It also interrupts short term memory retention. But compared to alcohol, the health risks are minimal. Likewise with auto accidents. Clearly, we want to keep our kids from using it, since their brains are still developing. By legalizing it and selling through liquor stores, you will see the underground trade go away, and it will become more difficult for kids to get it. Frankly, though, there is a much bigger epidemic in our schools – over the counter prescription drugs. One of the current drugs of choice is Oxycontin – a highly addictive drug that is used more for recreation than for medicinal purposes, and it is ruining the lives of many of our young ones. Making marijuana legal would raise revenue, and lower prison costs. It would also lower health costs as people switch from alcohol, a MUCH more addictive and harmful drug. We use some of the money for drug treatment and prevention campaigns, and solve our budget problems at the same time.

  3. The Oracle says:

    @Canthisbe. There’s a complication you neglected. The violence you reference may be the result of unregulated drug use, the way alcohol prohibition contributed to gang violence. If these problems can be avoid by regulating its distribution the way we regulate alcohol, then that’s a reason to consider legalization and regulation. Is it enough of a reason, though? I am not yet convinced.

  4. Canthisbe says:

    There were eleven thousand drug murders in Mexico in 2010. Journalists and even anti-cartel bloggers have had their heads chopped off.

    How many were killed because their murderers were high on marijuana and how many were killed because of all of the money generated by making marijuana illegal?

  5. Sarkyfish says:

    “The real issue is recreational use. Should it be legal? My mind isn’t made up. I’d like to see a debate.” Jim Sweeney, 12/15/2011. Mr. Undecided: do you have children, and are they teenagers yet? End of debate.

  6. Jim Sweeney says:

    Dan W. –
    You make several good points and ask a fair question. Let me clarify my own view on medical marijuana and sales taxes.
    I believe there probably are legitimate medicinal uses, and I voted for Proposition 215. I regret that. It’s clear to me now that the law is primarily a cover for recreational use. It was presented as a compassionate alternative for the terminally ill, and we hear a lot about “patients” and “medicine. But in practice, Prop. 215 provided an outlet for healthy young people who like to smoke pot and a stream of income for doctors willing to sell recommendations. Storefront dispensaries (the early ones were called clubs) add the imprimatur of traditional business. Meanwhile, people are getting killed in pot fields hidden on public and private land – not because pot is illegal, but because people buy it anyway.
    As for sales taxes, if marijuana is truly “medicine,” it shouldn’t be taxed. A recommendation is a prescription by another name – a name chosen to avoid a conflict with federal law. And I would expect dispensary owners would fight for their “patients” to enjoy the same treatment as people who buy their “medicine” at a pharmacy. Their eagerness to collect sales taxes tells me they’re more interested in creating an incentive for cities to allow dispensaries than in defending the claim that marijuana is medicinal. Thus my reference to Okrent’s book. You could also look at the recent Washington state election that saw alcohol wholesalers spending heavily on ads warning people about the dangers of drinking. Altruism? Of course not. They were protecting their monopoly.
    The real issue is recreational use. Should it be legal? My mind isn’t made up. I’d like to see a debate. I’d like to see more research. We still don’t know what illnesses respond to marijuana, the right dose and whether its medicinal properties are separate from its intoxicating properties. Answer some of those questions, and maybe we can move on to whether it should be legalized generally. For now, we’ve got a sham law that gets less respect than speed limits.
    – Jim Sweeney

  7. Dan W. says:

    I think that the difference is that traditional medications are heavily regulated through the FDA and patent laws. In order to purchase traditional medications one needs a prescription from a licensed doctor and needs to pick up the medication from a licensed pharmacy. When picking up your medication from pharmacies patients need to at least initial that they are declining consult from the pharmacist, releasing the pharmacy’s liability.

    Medical marijuana on the other hand requires a prescription from a doctor who needs to have your medical records faxed to them from your actual doctor in order to give you a prescription. It is also the only medication where you don’t have to buy from a licensed pharmacy from a FDA regulated pharmacist. You can also grow your own medicine. What would happen if AIDS patients tried to grow their own opium for morphine?

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t care if people are smoking marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. I just don’t think that comparing it to traditional medicines in any way, shape, or form is fair.

    Does the author want marijuana to be untaxed (which most transactions are because we all know a small fraction of patients actually buy theirs from dispensaries) or is he saying that a sales tax should be included on traditional medications? Probably the latter of the two knowing the mentality of progressives in Sonoma County.

  8. sarkyfish says:

    “Time to legalize adult use of a relatively harmless substance.” Or, Peter Mrozik, call a moratorium on using it and save the lives of thousands of Mexicans each year who are killed by the cartels whose chief source of income is your “harmless” pot. There were eleven thousand drug murders in Mexico in 2010. Journalists and even anti-cartel bloggers have had their heads chopped off. “Don’t toke to save a life.” Now there’s a slogan that I’ve never heard from the pot lobby. (or the editors of this paper for that matter)

  9. Peter Mrozik says:

    “Weed is illegal and needs to be kept illegal. Too much crime is caused by its cultivation and distribution.”

    Talk about circular reasoning. Too much crime was caused by the Prohibition of alcohol, which turned out to be a disaster. It’s time to stop being so hypocritical about the “horrors” of pot. Personally I would rather people smoked more and drank much, much less. When was the last time (or even the FIRST time) you heard of a traffic fatality caused by pot? Never?

    Time to legalize adult use of a relatively harmless substance.

  10. truth in law says:

    I think it is pretty outragous that I may need to get a “medical” tobacco card to enjoy a cigar, yet these sick and injuried kids can find a way to smoke pot. I can only pray the Mayan’s are right about 2012!

  11. Cantisbe says:

    Would you go to a fortune teller to find out who you should marry or what job you should be looking for?

    No, but I wouldn’t fill our prisons with people that do while we let violent criminals out because of overcrowding and go broke maintaing our prisons.

    Too much crime is caused by [marijuana] its cultivation and distribution.

    To much crime is caused by the fact that its illegal and keeping it illegal generates billions of $ for criminals, the police (gotta have those SWAT teams to bust into drug houses), the DEA, not to mention the Mexican cartels and maybe the CIA (just a rumor).

    For some light research, watch “Fench Connection”, “The Untouchables”, “Blow”, etc.

  12. sarkyfish says:

    Frankly, Sweeney attempts several points here, but they contradict each another. In conclusion, it appears he equates the historic prohibition on alcohol and cannabis as one in the same. I think he is trying to say he is for the national legalization of pot, but beating about the bush doesn’t serve to advance his point. I guess were supposed to read this other guy——nudge, nudge——and get Sweeney’s message. Whew, after this post, I need a drink.

  13. Sheryl says:

    Numerous family members of mine all have medical marijuana cards. Not a single one is actually sick. Medical marijuana? Yeah right!

  14. daniel fagan says:

    i belive in magic and dennis is a friend of mine ever since he ran for mayor of san fran. imagine how far society would have advanced had his campaign had been successful and pebbles and stoney, ed rosenthal et all had been listened too. dan fagan. ode to my friend bart gilbert and capt ed and jack herer. rip.

  15. Reality Check says:

    It’s true to say the marijuana has medicinal properties, especially in revealing pain. But that’s true of many drugs.

    What’s not true is the pretense that the “medical” marijuana movement is about anything medicinal, at least not 90% of it. Advertised as a palliative for (mostly) age-related debilitating diseases, the typical consumer (please, stop the sham patient nonsense) is young and male.

    Newspapers and society do themselves no favors by pretending this Emperor is fully clothed.

  16. Do We Believe in Magic says:

    All of this talk and California laws about “medical” marijuana are just covers for a lobby group that got a law passed that legalized smoking dope in this state.

    Would you go to a fortune teller to find out who you should marry or what job you should be looking for?

    It all boils down to belief and the power of suggestion has great influence on people. If you believe marijuana is good for you, you probably believe a herbal tea will cure the common cold.

    Weed is illegal and needs to be kept illegal. Too much crime is caused by its cultivation and distribution.