Medicinal taxation

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and marijuana expert. Email him questions at

Last week, you mentioned a new tax on medical marijuana. Can you give me some more details?

—John Q. Publique

I can indeed. Senate Bill 987, introduced by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, imposes a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana which will be imposed on the purchaser at the retail level. This is in addition to the taxes that many cities and counties already place on the purchase of medicinal marijuana, making the effective rate 25 percent in some jurisdictions. Cannabis advocacy groups Americans for Safe Access and California NORML oppose this bill.

Aside from the fact the medicinal marijuana is a medicine, and California doesn’t tax medicines (Can you imagine paying taxes for penicillin or oxycodone?), this tax is a horrible idea. A top-shelf eighth of marijuana costs about $60 pre-tax. If this tax passes, the cost becomes $69, or maybe even $75. The friendly neighborhood weed dealer sells quality bud at about $40 to $50. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to do this math. The secondary point of regulating the cannabis industry—the first should always be to keep people who use cannabis from going to jail—is to discourage the black market. If the retail cannabis prices aren’t competitive, no one will buy your overpriced weed, and nothing will change.

Oregon and Washington face a similar problem. Lawmakers in those two states have been working to kill their state’s medical marijuana programs. Their argument is something like: Since adult use of cannabis is legal, all the people who need cannabis for medicinal purposes have disappeared. This is ridiculous. There are hundreds of thousands of people in California who use marijuana to treat symptoms from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain and all kinds of other things. Many of these people are not financially well-off. Using the sick and the poor to make extra money is not cool. SB 987 has just been introduced and there is time to kill it before it reaches the floor. Please call McGuire’s office at (916) 651-4902 and let him know how you feel.

I am hella excited to put some plants into the ground. Do I really have to wait until spring?

—Earl E. Byrd

Nope. You can throw some decent-sized clones into your space right now. They will start to flower immediately, so you won’t get a monster yield, but you will have fun playing in the garden. You may also want to look into getting some “autoflower” seeds. Autoflower strains are cannabis phenotypes bred with the Russian cannabis known as ruderalis. These plants flower on their own and don’t need longer nights to start producing buds. By the way, now is the time to start getting your dirt ready if you plan to start your regular plants by 4/20 (April 20, obviously). Good dirt makes great plants. Be sure to check the growing regulations in your city or county.