April 29, 2013

Legalized pot a risk to Maine medical dispensers

In an odd twist, pro-marijuana groups that provide the drug to patients fear for their future if a proposed bill passes.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

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Estimates nationwide suggest if marijuana were legal, much of the profit gained by medical retailers and black-market criminals would disappear.

Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

So, the paper says, most of those billions could be captured by businesses or states, but "only if competitive pressure does not drive prices down."

Peterson said he has hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in his operation, and he's not sure what would happen to it under legalization.

"I have no investors. I don't take a salary," he said. "But that's what you have to do to have a program in this state."

Medical marijuana wouldn't be taxed at $50 an ounce, according to Russell's proposal, and Boyer said he doesn't want to affect the medical system "in any bad way."

Still, "it's kind of an evil trade-off," Peterson said of the tax on recreational marijuana. "You can have it legally, but it's going to cost you." Russell has said the price drop after legalization would more than make up for the tax.

On taxes, a fine line would have to be walked to turn the average consumer to the new, recreational market. If the marijuana tax is too high, people will likely seek the black market or a doctor's recommendation for patient status, say many working on tax proposals in other states.

Colorado and Washington are establishing regulations for their legal programs. They are seeking to establish a tax system that strikes those balances.

According to The New York Times, Colorado is considering excise and sales taxes of up to 30 percent combined on recreational marijuana. In Washington state, the Times said three levels of taxes will be levied on producers, processors and retailers. Consumers will pay a 44 percent effective rate.

The $50-per-ounce rate has been discussed in other places. California considered a bill that would use that rate in 2009, and lawmakers effectively killed it in 2010.

Beau Kilmer, a drug policy researcher for the RAND Corp., a nonprofit think tank, said there are a number of ways that regulators could tax marijuana, including per ounce and by the plant's chemical makeup.

However, it's too early to tell what would work best, so Kilmer suggests flexibility in the tax system.

"If large barriers are created to changing the taxes, it's going to make it a heck of a lot harder to update them based on new research," he said.

That lack of clarity makes Boyer, of the Marijuana Policy Project, wonder why some are opposing Russell's bill so soon, before a legislative committee gets to amend it.

"I'm a little disappointed that some people are jumping the gun on this bill before it's a final bill," Boyer said. "I think everyone would benefit from ending marijuana prohibition."

McCarrier said that philosophically, he could support legalization, but "the devil's in the details."

Peterson also said he could support the right plan, but "I would not want to do anything that disrupted the medical side of things. It really puts a death knell to the program."

For St. Pierre, the NORML director, the schism is particularly divisive for the overarching cause of his group for years -- totally legal marijuana.

"For me, it is a necessary but fascinating footnote in history that some of the most active opposition is oddly coming from those who are fellow travelers of the road, shall we say -- those who enjoy and use marijuana, be it for medical reasons or recreational," he said.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:


Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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