Article by Jonathan Zaid, iPolitics
The latest plank in Canada’s evolving cannabis framework was laid recently with the announcement of an excise tax to which all cannabis products will be subject: a one-dollar per gram (or 10 per cent, whichever is higher) excise tax on all cannabis products — with explicit confirmation that the tax will apply also to medical cannabis.
This is an unprecedented move in Canadian pharmaceutical policy. Applying sales and excise taxes to medical cannabis is a policy based on false assumptions, misguided logic and erroneous principles. If adopted, the proposed taxation of medical cannabis would mark a profound — and negative — shift in the way Canada deals with access to medicines.
Supporters of the government’s position argue there are no precedents for differential taxation between medical and recreational cannabis in other jurisdictions. That’s not true. California charges a 7.25 per cent state tax plus a 15 per cent excise tax for retail cannabis — but medical cannabis is exempt because it’s medical.
Maine has a 10 per cent sales tax on recreational products and no tax on medical cannabis. Massachusetts charges a 10.75 per cent retail tax, a 6.25 per cent state tax and a 3 per cent municipal tax — and medical cannabis is exempt. The list goes on but the point remains the same: all these jurisdictions treat recreational and medical cannabis differently, because they are different.
One false argument put forth in support of taxing medical marijuana is the suggestion that, by treating recreational and medical products the same way, we eliminate the incentive for non-medical users to abuse the medical system as a cheaper source of supply. But that amounts to taxing the 99 per cent of patients who are legitimately accessing treatment to go after a hypothetical 1 per cent who might be gaming the system.
That’s not how we make public policy in Canada. And if such a problem does emerge, aren’t we better off focusing on enforcement?
Medical cannabis is well established as an effective treatment for multiple ailments. Over 200,000 critically and chronically ill Canadians have their physicians’ support to use it for a range of conditions, including pediatric epilepsy, chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and multiple sclerosis.
More and more, we’re seeing encapsulated oral dosage for cannabis, making it like any other medicine; we’re well past the old stereotype of medical users lighting up a joint. Canada’s medical cannabis regime is based on precisely-dosed, tightly regulated medicine, produced in pharmaceutical-grade facilities.