If Arizonans want to be able to inhale marijuana for medical purposes they're going to have to give something to the government.
Not dope. Cash.
On a 4-3 margin, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that says if voters approve a "medical marijuana" law in November, anything sold from the dispensaries that would be set up is subject to the state's 5.6 percent sales tax. The measure now goes to the full Senate.
Sen. Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, who crafted SB1222, said he supports the initiative to let those with "written certification" from a doctor get up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. He said more than a dozen other states already have similar laws.
"A number of folks that I've spoken to in my work as a social worker say that marijuana helps them to relieve some stressors, to deal with the nausea associated with medications," Garcia said.
But the issue here is revenue.
Prescriptions now are exempt from all taxes.
Garcia noted the initiative would let doctors give patients a "certification." That gets around threats by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke the prescription-writing privileges of any doctor that prescribed marijuana.
Using California and its medical marijuana law as a model, legislative staffers figured Arizonans would legally buy more than $25 million worth of the drug a year if the initiative is approved, generating about $1.3 million in taxes.
Andrew Myers, campaign manager for the initiative, not only supports Garcia's proposal but believes it might give voters another reason to vote for the measure.
"Passing this makes it clear that enacting a medical marijuana law is not only the right thing to do for patients, but it will also help pay for social services," he said.
But that logic annoyed some lawmakers.
"I don't think citizens should be prodded (into voting for this) by saying, 'Look, if you legalize marijuana, it'll also help us with our fiscal problems,'" said Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise.
The initiative lists medical conditions that could be treated with marijuana, ranging from glaucoma and AIDS to chronic or debilitating conditions that lead to severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms.
But Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said that is just a smoke screen. He said both his sister-in-law and his nephew have been certified by California doctors to be able to buy marijuana.
"It's not really about a medical condition," he said. "It's about legalization."
And Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said allowing people to smoke marijuana legally makes no sense "at a time we're trying to increase productivity."