Arizona Lawmakers Are Debating Tax On Medical Marijuana

March 30, 2010 – Proposed legislation that would tax medical marijuana – if voters legalize it this fall – narrowly passed the state Senate on Thursday thanks to a split among Republicans.

The bill passed with a vote of 17-12 after five Republicans, including Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, supported it. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 1222 would make medical marijuana subject to the state sales tax, which right now is at 5.6 percent. Most drugs and medical supplies are exempt from this tax. It would also tack on a $20-per-ounce luxury tax.

It’s unknown how much medical marijuana would cost if it were legal, but DPS spokesman Bart Graves said the street value of marijuana in Phoenix is $65 to $100 an ounce.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project is leading the effort to get the initiative on the November ballot. If it passes, it would allow terminally or seriously ill patients who have a doctor’s recommendation to buy marijuana from state-regulated non-profit medical-marijuana dispensaries. Eligible individuals could purchase up to 2.5 ounces of the drug every 14 days.

More than a dozen states have legalized medical marijuana. None has implemented a statewide tax, although Colorado is considering one.

Legislators who opposed the proposed tax said its passage could give the impression that the Legislature supports the ballot initiative. They also said it would give its supporters an extra argument to garner support.

“It gives those promoting marijuana the opportunity to tell people at the ballot that by passing this initiative, we will receive tax revenues,” said Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa.

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, stuck with a more traditional conservative anti-tax argument.

“We don’t tax any other medication,” he said. “Just because we find it an easy tax to raise, it is still a tax increase. I vote no.”

Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, supported the tax proposal. He said he thinks medical marijuana will be legalized by voters and hopes the tax would be a deterrent.

“The more you tax something, the less it will be used and the less damage it will do,” he said.

Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project campaign manager Andrew Myers said his group does not oppose taxation.

“It just shows that not only is medical marijuana good for patients, but it’s also going to be good for society more broadly by keeping cops on the streets,” he said.

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