Cannabis Tax in CA Hurting Medical Marijuana Patients
Cannabis Tax in CA Hurting Patients
Ed Gallagher, a former Army intelligence officer, reached into an armoire in the living room of his Twin Peaks home and pulled out his last bag of a medicinal herb he considers his salvation.
The blind, 67-year-old veteran smokes marijuana every night to ease pain, nausea and various HIV-related problems. But his routine, he said, has become an unintended victim of Proposition 64, the California initiative that legalized and regulated adult cannabis use.
The ambiguity has forced numerous aid organizations, growers and dispensaries that donate to patients suffering from AIDS, cancer and other diseases to put a halt to their charity.
Compassionate care programs at Sweetleaf Collective in San Francisco, Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, San Leandro-based Educating Veterans About Cannabis and Harborside dispensary in Oakland have been among those put on hold since January.
“A lot of us compassion programs have been operating within the law, and now all of a sudden we are being told we can no longer operate,” said Joseph Airone, the founder of Sweetleaf, which has provided as much as 100 pounds of marijuana to cancer and HIV/AIDS patients every year since 1996, including Gallagher’s stash.
Airone recently joined with 20 other groups to form the California Compassion Coalition, which has been lobbying the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control along with the agriculture and health departments to let organizations provide cannabis to those who benefit from it and can’t afford it.
The state’s cannabis advisory board expressed a desire to address the matter during a hearing Thursday, but Cannabis Control officials said a fix may require legislation.
Prop. 64 imposed a 15 percent excise tax on retailers on top of local taxes, while cultivators pay $9.25 for every ounce they produce. Airone said regulators have told him that, without legislative changes, the taxes would apply to the full value of cannabis given to the sick and indigent.
His organization would be on the hook for $50,000 to $200,000 a year, he said, in addition to the burden of getting permits to transport and dispense marijuana.
“That is incredibly cost-prohibitive,” he said. “We understand that this is an oversight and it was never the intention of the new law, but my patients are terminally ill.”