How patients use their medical marijuana affects their tax rate, according to a recent opinion from Maine Revenue Services—and choosing the healthy option of smokeless edibles will result in higher taxes.
Many patients, advocates and others question the logic—and the legality—of the odd ruling.
“It again shows how disconnected some people in the taxing department are from the general will of Maine people,” said Paul McCarrier, board member of Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine. Medical marijuana is just that—a medicine—and should not be taxed at all, according to McCarrier.
For some individuals, eating foods that contain cannabis is the best way for them to use the medicine, McCarrier said. Smoking or using vaporizers does not work for everyone, and patients should not have to pay extra tax in order to use marijuana in a healthier way.
“Sometimes it is the best delivery method for people,” McCarrier said. “They can ingest it and it helps with their various pains and afflictions. For some people it is their only delivery means.”
Mainers passed a referendum in 2009 amending their medical marijuana law to allow dispensaries; support was overwhelming, with almost 60 percent of the vote. The bill was reworked by a committee named by then-Governor John Baldacci and became law in 2010, with the first dispensaries opening this year.
The policy question of taxing medical marijuana was settled by question, according to Peter Beaulieu, director of the Sales, Fuel and Special Tax Division at Maine Revenue. A provision of the law says the sales tax exemption for medicine does not apply to medical marijuana.
|Rich Obrey/The Forecaster|
|Rep. Meredith Strang-Burgess: “I think we are going to have to take another look at this whole area”|
“It is MRS’s position that a food product containing medical marijuana is not a grocery staple because it is not ordinarily consumed for human nourishment,” Beaulieu said. “The food product being prepared is not for general consumption. It is primarily prepared as an alternative form of delivering the medical marijuana into the body.”
For prepared foods with medical marijuana to be exempted from taxes would take legislative action, according to Beaulieu. He stressed that MRS is “just interpreting” current law.
That does NOT, however, explain why medibles would be taxed at a higher rate than cannabis flowers.
“I think we are going to have to take another look at this whole area,” said Rep. Meredith Strang-Burgess (R-Cumberland), co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
The fact that medical marijuana is taxed at all is concerning, Strang-Burgess said. According to the legislator, it “was not really discussed in any depth” because it was part of the bill as submitted to implement the dispensary law voters had already approved at referendum.
“My personal opinion is that it should not be taxed,” said Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea). “If they were just making brownies as a snack, that’s one thing, but this is a way to deliver medicine. For many, this may be the only option because they can’t or do not want to smoke marijuana.”
“I would hope we could get legislation in this session to correct this,” Sanderson said. “This really isn’t fair.”
Rep. Anne Haskell (D-Portland), who served on the committee two years ago that drafted the dispensary legislation after the referendum vote, said she does not remember any discussion of taxing food used to deliver medical cannabis.
“There was not much discussion of taxing medical marijuana at all,” Haskell said. “It was in the bill and we had a lot of issues to resolve in not a lot of time.”
Haskell agreed that the Legislature should reconsider the issue, and agreed that taxing a food because it is being used to deliver a medicine seems strange to her.
“I think of the brownie as simply the delivery method, much as encapsulating a bill so you can swallow the powder you need to swallow,” she said.
Haskell said she hopes legislative leaders would allow a bill to be considered in January on the issue, because lawmakers did not know of the MRS opinion before the deadline to submit bill requests, which has already passed.