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The Washington Legislature is doing the equivalent of looking through the couch for money: Searching somewhere, anywhere, to add more taxes to the state’s budget, already on life support. They’ve already proposed a 10-cent hike on gasoline taxes; now they’re coming after medical marijuana, although prescription pharmaceuticals are exempt from taxes in the state.

More than a dozen people, mostly medical marijuana patients and providers, testified on Monday against a bill to tax medicinal cannabis dispensaries. Some lawmakers claim it’s a move to head off black market sales when state-taxed recreational marijuana sales start after the end of this year, reports Rachel La Corte at The Associated Press.

The medical marijuana tax bill would hit dispensaries with a tax equal to 25 percent of their sales of medicinal cannabis and cannabis-infused products. This massive tax is supposedly to match the 25 percent tax imposed on recreational marijuana sales at each of the three stages of production (growing, processing, and retail).

The bill’s sponsors claim they’re trying to avoid a “dual market,” but it looks exactly like a cash grab being made under the cover of Initiative 502, the deeply flawed “legalization” initiative approved by Washington voters last November.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) claims medical marijuana's taxes must be equalized with recreational cannabis in Washington [Washington Legislature]

Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) claims medical marijuana’s taxes must be equalized with recreational cannabis in Washington
[Washington Legislature]

The state of Washington is due to start issuing licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retailers, beginning in December.

“If we don’t equalize taxes, we run an even greater risk of a black market, and we set the stage for substantial market distortions,” claimed Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), who co-sponsors the measure.

Prescription medications are exempt from taxation in Washington, and medical marijuana patients have argued that since they use cannabis under a doctor’s recommendation, the same rule should apply. But legislators such as Rep. Carlyle appear convinced that medical marijuana patients somehow aren’t as medically “real” as the people who choose to take pharmaceuticals.

“The medical and the recreational need to be treated in two different, completely separate categories,” said medical marijuana patient Stephanie Viskovich, director of the Cannabis Action Coalition and president of a collective garden.

Medical marijuana patients in Washington (unlike recreational users, who aren’t allowed to cultivate) are allowed to grow up to 15 plants or to designate a caregiver to grow for them. Community gardens of up to 45 plants and 10 patients are explicitly allowed under state law.