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].