Collecting Taxes from Medical Marijuana in Washington State
Tax officials in Washington State have begun auditing medical marijuana dispensaries, dispensaries that are not technically allowed under state law.
Since 2010 the state Department of Revenue has been telling marijuana operations that they must remit sales taxes on their transactions. About 50 dispensaries have registered with the state, bringing in some $750,000 in taxes from the industry over the span of one year.
“We’ve been doing the educational part and now we’re doing the enforcement part,” said Mike Gowrylow, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue.
But Seattle medical marijuana lawyer Douglas Hiatt said he doesn’t believe the state can tax medical marijuana sales, and says he would not allow one of his clients to cooperate with an audit.
“There’s no way they can do this,” Hiatt said. “DOR doesn’t have the power to tax marijuana. It’s not only that you can’t tax it because it’s illegal, it’s that you can’t tax it because it’s medicine. There’s an exemption for prescription medicine under state law, and an authorization is the functional equivalent of a prescription.”
Steve Sarich - who runs a medical marijuana establishment in Seattle called Access 4 Washington - said any money exchanged at his facility is a donation to the collective effort of producing the marijuana. He noted that it is illegal to sell marijuana under both state and federal law, so it would be hard for any medical marijuana provider to claim sales of the drug.
“If you pay sales tax, you’re admitting to sales,” Sarich said. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to do that.”
Herein lies the problem with incomplete medical marijuana laws. Any functional MMJ law needs to have provisions for growing one’s own medicine as well a dispensary system to sell the medicine. If dispensaries were legal in Washington, then the issue of taxation could be discussed.
Medical Marijuana Supporters in Los Angeles Seek to Overturn Dispensary Ban
Signature-gathers have spread throughout Los Angeles in recent weeks in an attempt to repeal a recent ban on marijuana dispensaries passed by the city council. If they can collect the roughly 27,400 names required within the next three weeks, a referendum to overturn the ban would go before voters in March, 2013.
If the repeal measure does make the ballot, it will share the slate with a mayoral primary race.
Looking to increase their influence in recent months, dispensary owners have coordinated contributions of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of some city council members, and a labor union made up of dispensary workers has held vocal rallies outside of City Hall.
The measure itself seeks a suspension of the ordinance banning dispensaries, knocking the city council back to square one on the issue.
"Relief is on its way," City Councilman Jose Huizar promised residents when the ban was passed, but relief from what? Overemployment? Too much medicine? Too many sick people finding alternate and safer ways of healing?
Some dispensary owners have said they will keep their doors open, even as the city has begun notifying them that they must shut down by September 6th. In a letter mailed last week, city lawyers warned dispensary operators that they risk jail time and fines of up to $2,500 a day if they fail to comply with the ban.
The current ban on dispensaries still allows patients to grow their own and groups of three or less are allowed to grow cannabis and share it within the group.
On Friday a lawsuit was filed against the city by a medical marijuana trade association that represents patients, dispensaries and growers.
Marc O'Hara - director of the Patient Care Alliance - said the dispensary ban is "heartless" and denies patients their right to assemble.
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