This week has brought both good and bad news when it comes to medical marijuana in Arizona, legalized when statewide voters narrowly passed Prop 203 in November 2010, allowing patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of medi-pot.
On the positive side of the slate, pot patients will not be required to have visited their doctor four times during the previous year in order to receive their medicinal cannabis recommendations. (Contrary to popular belief, medical pot cannot be “prescribed” by doctors because it is a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substances Act and Schedule I drugs are said by the government to have no medicinal value. It’s the same reason the FDA doesn’t approve pot for medical purposes).
The good news in Arizona arrived on January 31 as State Health Director Will Humble announced that patients can get recommendations with just one visit to a physician, a change in policy from Humble’s earlier proposed Prop 203 rules. Patients can begin receiving their recommendations for medical cannabis on April 14.
Also of interest to the future of Arizona’s medical pot scene, Humble said that, for the time being, only one medi-pot dispensary will be permitted in each of the state’s 126 designated “community health analysis areas” to prevent the proliferation of dispensaries that has caused controversy in cities like Los Angeles. Dispensaries aren’t expected to be operating in Arizona until later this summer. Because physicians can begin recommending marijuana to patients in mid April, “the first patients will have to grow their own drugs.”
Now for the bad news – just when Arizona patients are looking forward to finally being able to legally use medical marijuana, state representative Steve Farley (D-Tucson) has proposed taxing medi-pot at a rate of 300 percent (state sales tax is 6.6 percent).
Medical marijuana activists like those at the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association are objecting and told The Arizona Republic that the excessive tax could kill the medi-pot industry before it even gets off the ground and prevent patients’ access to the medicine, defeating the entire purpose of legalizing medi-pot in the first place.
Why would Arizona be able to get away with imposing such a high tax? It goes back to the whole “recommendation vs. prescription” issue – because pot can only be recommended by physicians, there is no exemption to taxation, as is the case with prescription drugs in the state.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne hopes the tax generates $40 million. Given that experts project roughly 20,000 medi-pot patients in Arizona, that means the government expects each patient to spend at least $2,000 a year on pot, a realistic possibility (especially if taxed 300 percent) that could set a dangerous precedent of other states using the loophole of excessively taxing non-prescribed “recommended” medi-pot to refill their depleted state coffers.
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