Courtesy of CT-N
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford (Courtesy of CT-N)

HARTFORD, CT – Proposed legislation that would impose a 6 percent tax on the state’s 17,000 medical marijuana users was met with stiff opposition by medical professionals at a public hearing Friday.

Those professionals said they worried taxing medical marijuana would send thousands of users back to the streets, instead of regulated facilities, for cannabis.

The hearing was held by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, where the bill proposed by Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, got an airing.

One of those who implored the committee to not impose the tax was Tom Schulz, the president of the Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions, a licensed medical marijuana producer.

Schultz said the medical marijuana program now services more than 17,000 patients in Connecticut and he told the committee that he worries if taxes are applied it might “push people back to the black market” to buy marijuana.

Schultz, who called Connecticut’s medical marijuana program highly regulated and successful, said it serves people with “cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease and AIDS – and many veterans who suffer from PTSD.”

He told the committee these patients already paid $100 annually for the program and typically $150 for an annual medical appointment to be certified eligible.

“Applying a 6 percent surcharge to medical marijuana will simply add to the $250 that our patients have already spent,” Schultz said.

The average patient is purchasing 2.5 ounces which costs about $200 to $400 per month, Schultz said.

“We are worried that the surcharge could exacerbate the price differential between the pharmaceutical grade medical marijuana that is available through the program versus what is available on the street. This price differential would tend to drive the use of marijuana that is often unsafe or contaminated,” Schultz said.

Candelora told Schultz he was “sympathetic to the issue of drug costs” but he also wondered if the medical marijuana program is so successful whether more of the costs could be paid by those profiting off the program.

Schultz said currently each medical marijuana producer pays the state $75,000 for a license. Each dispensary pays $5,000. Candelora wondered if more of the costs could be picked up on the dispensary end.

“We monitor the producers pretty heavily,” Candelora said. “Are dispensaries monitored” at the same level,” he wondered. Schultz said he didn’t disagree with Candelora’s assessment.

Also opposing the idea of taxing medical marijuana was Margherita Giuliano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association.

In written testimony, Giuliano said: “This is a measure that would impose additional financial hardship on Connecticut citizens, particularly our patients, who already spend a significant portion of their income on medical care.”

These are very sick patients, and many are low-income due to those disabilities.

“Many of our patients are suffering from severe illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and HIV and AIDS,” Giuliano said. “Many are disabled, from low-income families, or already seeking end-of-life care. The burden of additional taxation on these individuals is unjust, especially in light of the fact that medical marijuana is not covered by insurance and thus, patients are paying for it out-of-pocket.”

Like Schulz, Giuliano worries that taxing medical pot “will force some patients to buy less expensive cannabis from the unregulated illicit market – where there are no safety standards or oversight. That is the opposite of what regulations are supposed to accomplish.”

She said “Connecticut’s safety and testing regulations are among the most rigorous in the nation; indeed, this proposed bill would act in contradiction to our existing laws’ rightful concerns with patient safety and access.”

Also opposing the tax was medical marijuana user Cody Roberts of Seymour, who described himself as a “25-year-old kid” who suffers from nerve damage and PTSD.

He told the committee: “I am a proud medical patient in the state of Connecticut who spends about $945 per week. I also spend $100 on the state fee and a $200-$250 co-pay for the doctor’s visit.”

He said he move to another state and get a much better deal.

“Just a state over where cultivation rights are allowed I can get the same quality and quantity (or better) at $20 a day for flower and $50 a day for concentrates; that’s $455 total a week compared to my $945 I’m paying here. I can literally get double my medicine,” Roberts said.

Roberts concluded: “I beg you to please oppose” taxing medical marijuana.