Op-Ed: San Jose Took Away My Medical Cannabis Patient Rights

I am no longer a medical marijuana patient.

Yes, it’s official. My medical cannabis card expired last week. I’ve been a patient for over 15 years and could pay $40 to renew it for another year, but what are the benefits? Because of San Jose’s tax structure, absolutely none.

Although the cannabis I consume is the same as that’s consumed by recreational users, I actually need mine for back pain, arthritis and depression. By renewing my card, I am basically paying for a prescription for pain (just as you’d pay a $40 copay for a prescription from your doctor). Normally, when you pick up a prescription, you pay no sales tax. But because of our local tax structure, medical cannabis patients actually do pay sales tax for our medicine.

This brings me to why I am no longer a medical marijuana patient. Since the city of San Jose has chosen not to waive their tax for medical patients, there is no advantage to being one. The only possibility for a lower tax is to waive the sales tax for medical patients. This was actually included as part of the bill we voted on to legalize marijuana, that medical patients would be exempt from sales tax. That’s one of the reasons medical patients (who already had access and didn’t want higher taxes) voted for legalization.

Turns out, the medical card required to exempt patients from sales tax has an annual price tag of $100, which wasn’t mentioned in the bill. So it would cost me $140 a year to become a “registered” medical cannabis patient, and to save 9.25 percent sales tax.

Just out of curiosity, I called a dispensary in Las Vegas (a heavily taxed city) and asked their cannabis tax rate. “Eighteen percent,” he replied. Then I asked what the tax rate was for medical patients, and he answered “8 percent.” There seems to be about a 10 percent difference between the two, which would be the exact amount if San Jose waived its city tax, or close to it, if only Santa Clara County would waive its medical marijuana card fee. And Las Vegas’ total tax rate of 18 percent is much less than the tax rate in San Jose.

Let’s do some math, shall we? If I spend $140 a year to save 9.25 percent tax, how much would I have to spend annually on cannabis to make back my investment? That’s $140 divided by .0925, which amounts to $1,513. Nope, I don’t spend over $1,500 dollars annually on medical cannabis. So no return on my investment is possible.

Since there is no benefit to being a medical cannabis patient, I guess I am a “recreational” user now. What does that mean I’ll pay in taxes?

First is the California state excise tax of 15 percent, next add the 10 percent San Jose cannabis sales tax (which should be paid by dispensaries), and finally the general 9.25 percent sales tax, for a total of 34.25 percent tax on my medicine. That’s more tax than on alcohol or tobacco, and should not be the rate on a prescription for medicine.

Something must be done to lower the tax rate for medical patients, or there won’t be any left—starting with me. I am now going to be treated like a recreational “user” instead of someone who needs cannabis for pain relief and other ailments. That is degrading to me as a medical patient, and makes me feel that San Jose council members and county supervisors just want to maximize revenue, and do not care for the aging population that so often needs this kind of medicine.

Worse yet, medical patients like me will now be growing our own medical marijuana in the backyard. So the city, county, and state will not be getting their taxes at all, and we’re driving marijuana sales back underground illegally. Is that a better solution?

Crystal Campisi is a senior medical marijuana patient and resident of south San Jose. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

6 Comments

  1. “…makes me feel that San Jose council members and county supervisors just want to maximize revenue, and do not care for the aging population…”

    Did you really think otherwise?

  2. Thank you Crystal for sharing your experience and educating us all on this disappointing behavior in Santa Clara County by the officials in charge. This is too bad. I hope your article reaches the right people and you and others are heard. I’m sorry this is something that you are going through. This is an important topic that needs to be discussed and addressed. Could you buy your medical marijuana card in Santa Cruz and purchase your medical marijuana there? I’m not familiar with their taxes and price-point for a card. Just a thought. I wish you well and hope change occurs.

  3. > Worse yet, medical patients like me will now be growing our own medical marijuana in the backyard.

    Actually, that’s illegal now too. The way the law is worded you can only grow in a code enforcement approved indoor enclosure, and my contacts at code enforcement told me they are not approving anything in residential zoned areas. Not that it’s stopping people, and not that it’s being enforced either.

    Having worked in the industry for 3 years, I can tell you that what we had before was somewhat of a mess. We had shady doctors giving our “Recommendations” and not “Prescriptions”. They’d see you for about all of 3 minutes, and with no real health check being done, give everyone a free license to smoke. I don’t think this was the right way of handling it because it dilutes from those with real medical issues (Such as parkinsons) that really do need it.

    Beyond that though was the regulations themselves, that ordered all shops to keep a separate inventory of medicinal and recreational product. Finally you have the entire quagmire of keeping separate accounting for each type which no point of sales software seemed equipped to do well.

    I think what the city, more to the point SJ’s DMMC recognized was that there was way too many people taking advantage here, it was almost impossible to regulate. In the interest of cutting to the chase, DMMC saw the entire “Medical Recommendation” system for what it was, a sham and instead of taking the burden of liability, deferred it to the state. It makes sense because compared to the state, we do not have the same level of legal support to defend against a federal sting.

    I know it sucks to be paying taxes, but having worked in that industry for 3 years, having worked with SGT David Woolsey, having worked with the planning commission on some of the ordinances, and understanding the scope of the issue from all sides, what they did was the best they could do.

  4. Taxifornia, what great place to be leaving, Almost any state you could move to has lower taxes. That why tens of thousands of us and our businesses are leaving California.

    No high-speed rail to know where, no free health care for illegal democrats, no bail out to underfunded public employee unions.

    If you are in favor of all that please stay here in Taxifornia don’t move back to the United States and demand all that all that stuff, or your taxes will go up and I’ll have to move again.

    By the way if you switch to a fentanyl patch, my mother says it works much better that THC, it’s legal and its tax deductible.

  5. Same complaints about the min wage going up. Pay under the table. Fact that is illegal also. So growing your own is a answer but it is illegal. Enjoy Jail Crystal

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