Senators voted March 25 to tax the sale of marijuana, anticipating that the public will approve its use for medical reasons this November.
But several conservative Republicans balked at the measure, arguing that other medicines aren’t taxed.
“I’m hoping that the ballot measure doesn’t pass, but if it does and if it’s truly about medical marijuana, we don’t tax any other medicine,” said Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa. “We ought to be consistent in our tax policy in our state.”
But other lawmakers who dislike the idea of legalizing marijuana – but believe voters will approve its use for medical purposes – said taxing it would lessen its use.
“One thing I know of is that when you tax something, less of it happens and I want less of this to happen,” Sen. John Huppenthal, a Republican from Chandler, said of his support for S1222, which the Senate approved by a 17-12 vote.
Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia, the bill’s sponsor, said he fears that pot would destroy many families in communities he represents.
“But I recognize the realities,” the Tucson Democrat said. “The same initiative that is going to be before us in November has passed at least two times before. It will pass again.”
Voters in the 1990s twice approved the decriminalization of medical marijuana.
A 1996 measure, which passed with about 65 percent of the vote, still exists on the books. The law, though, is little more than symbolic due to a drafting error.
In 1997, the Legislature overturned the initiative supported the year before, but a referendum in 1998 reinstated the measure.
But Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu Republican, said the legislation should have been subject to the requirements of Proposition 108, the ballot initiative that requires a two-thirds vote for any act that results in a “net increase” in state revenues.
Garcia’s S1222 will exclude medical marijuana from exemptions to the state’s sales tax.
In its fiscal analysis of the bill, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee has noted that if medical marijuana were legal, it could be interpreted to fall under the tax exempt category for drugs and medical supplies.
The bill is conditional on the enactment of the “Arizona Medical Marijuana Act” ballot initiative this November.
Supporters of the initiative, which was proposed by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, are currently collecting signatures to put it on the ballot.
If the measure passes, people diagnosed with cancer, AIDS, HIV, Alzheimer’s, Hepatitis C and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, would qualify for protection under state law.
Other people who would be permitted to use marijuana include those suffering from glaucoma and patients with “debilitating medical conditions” brought on by diseases or treatments that cause severe and chronic pain, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms and severe loss of muscle mass.
To obtain marijuana legally, patients would need a recommendation from a doctor and consent from the state Department of Health Services.
Doctors would be required to conduct a full patient examination and medical history assessment before issuing recommendations for marijuana.
The Department of Health Services also would be required to operate a computer system to track licensing of patients and designated caregivers. The department also would be charged with registering owners and employees of dispensaries. The database would be available to law enforcement agencies and dispensaries.
Medical marijuana users would be permitted to keep as much as 2.5 ounces of marijuana at a time. Licensed caregivers would be free to grow as many as 12 marijuana plants.
The possession mandates under the proposal would put Arizona roughly in the middle of the pack, compared to restrictions in other states.