SB 987 Action: Proposal reduces “User Fee” for medical cannabis.

SB 987 Action:  Proposal reduces “User Fee” for medical cannabis.

 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In response to stakeholder and patient rights advocate arguments that medical treatments are not subject to special taxes and that a modified plan for cannabis will result in an undue burden on patients in the state, California lawmakers this week have reduced a proposed fee on medical cannabis purchases and have also added a way for low-income patients to avoid paying the added cost.

Senate Bill 987, introduced by Sen. Mike McGuire, initially proposed a 15 percent “user fee” — effectively a tax — on all cannabis purchases. Lawmakers have  amended the bill lowering the rate to 10 percent and have also included an exemption for patients who obtain a state medical marijuana identification card (MMIC) and can prove their income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The proposed decrease may ease the financial impact on patients, but many are still concerned the costs are too steep and that an increase in the cost of access for patients remains untenable and may set a precedent for medicinal drug policy with far reaching implications.

The bill’s approach to tie price reductions to obtaining an ID card, a program the State of California has, as recently as April 2016, come under fire for due to complaints of long appointment and issuance times, as well as its variable price tag (the card can cost hundreds of dollars and prices vary by county).

Perhaps most importantly, the card is generally not necessary for patients to purchase, grow, and consume cannabis, and pundits of the bill believe that it is inappropriate to create an incentive for adoption of a card with otherwise very limited practical use that may be excessively costly for those members of a potentially vulnerable community of sick individuals with limited financial resources. With fewer than 10,000 patient cards issued by the Department of Health Services as of this writing, the card has not been widely adopted by the medical cannabis community.

The Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee is set to consider the bill the afternoon of Monday, June 20th, 2016. Patients’ Rights Advocates and other stakeholders are calling on patients and the public to write to the committee to oppose the fee. Signed letters sent by end of day Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 (according to Americans for Safe Access) will be included in the following week’s committee analysis and report.

Committee staffers request that letters be faxed to (916) 319-2198.

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