Tax the Sick

Cynics declare that medical marijuana is a farce, using my stand-up comedy routine. “I use marijuana for my latent glaucoma. There are no indications of it yet, but if I stop using it there could be irreparable damage done.” Actually that may not be far fetched for both glaucoma and Multiple Sclerosis. However, I have met lots of patients with heart-rending stories, and with one unifying theme–, that using marijuana has helped them immensely medically.

There are a few scary things about being sick in America aside from the illness, pain and possibly death. First, is that we have great medical care if you qualify, but fewer and fewer people do. More and more people have no insurance, and the insurers weasel out of paying a substantial number of claims.

And as you sink into illness, your savings, your credit cards and even the house you live in become variables and tangibles on the road to poverty. In fact, about a quarter of bankruptcies in America occur as the result of someone needing medical care. It seems acceptible to run a health insurance company here that offers low rates because it insures only healthy people. If you get sick you’re no longer healthy so you no longer qualify for the insurance.

So I was happy to see that Oakland’s recent tax on the poor has imploded. You see, the City of Oakland was planning to license four big grows. Each would have paid a fee of $210,000 a year just to exist. Aside from sales taxes dispensaries in Oakland pay a special tax that they put on the ballot and assisted in passing. Their reasoning was that the City government would be friendlier if they paid more taxes. “Those dispensaries sure can afford it,” most people would say “They are awash in money falling out their customers’ pockets. They seem to be the only thriving industry in this country, or at least in this county.”

Yes. It sounds great until you think about who would pay the taxes levied on marijuana farms and dispensaries. Don’t think for one minute that the dispensary owners pay these taxes. They just collect them. It’s the patients who pay them. That’s great. The Republicans’ favorite scenario; The redistribution of wealth from the poor to fund the government while the rich are given grants of one sort or another. Welcome to the new economics of marijuana.

Luckily, the Oakland plan imploded before it got into serious planning stages. However, the threat to patients continues as state and local governments look for new sources of funding no matter where they come from. As a result the taxes on medical marijuana might be the most regressive since the state lotteries and games of chance were inaugurated in the 1970’s.

How’s the state going to take its cut if its precluded from tapping the med-mar source? Wait! Don’t tell me. I’ve got it. While it is immoral to tax patients for their medicine, or at least their prescription medicine, there is no moral reason not to tax their pleasure, their discretionary spending. All kinds of pleasurable things are taxed: tobacco, alcohol, movie tickets, amusement parks, flights, even gasoline. A fat tax on recreational marijuana is not unwarranted. Instead of paying farmers a high price for the scarcity of prohibition and the risk they take, the state will be collecting a high proportion of the sales price.

Politicians get so funny around marijuana and in the tax and regulatory policies they try to promulgate about it, you would think they were taking one too many tokes… actually drinking one too many shots, from my observation. So it may be up to the citizenry to take matters into their own hands and set out deeper laws that politicians cannot subvert.

When politicians start functioning on the reality plane that most of us deal with every day they will realize that the voters mean what they vote- they want marijuana legal and are tired of stuffed shirts preaching morality to them and siding with special interests such as cops rather than citizens.

Just think about it- the nation’s top politician, who suffers from MDS, marijuana deficiency syndrome (#marijuanadeficiencysyndrome), smoked marijuana until June 2008 but now opposes legalization. Really. Well, I keep having this fantasy. One of the thousands of joints sent to Obama during my “Joints for Obama” campaign in early 2010 gets through and Obama lights up. He takes a toke and holds it. Then he takes another toke and holds it. Exhales, takes another toke and says to himself

“What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan? We’ve got to get out of there quick.” It would be worth the excise tax.