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Encyclopedia of Medical Marijuana Laws: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Everything you always wanted to know (but were too stoned to ask) about medical marijuana laws and marijuana use in the US of A is now available in a report from the good folks at a Florida official body called the Financial Impact Estimating Conference.

For a government publication, it's a juicy read, 413 pages full of fascinating nuggets of reefer trivia. As far as its official purpose -- to provide state government with an estimate of the impact of medical marijuana on public revenues and expenses --it has a ways to go.

By state law, the FIEC kicks in whenever a proposed constitutional amendment has qualified to be filed with the Secretary of State. Its members are appointed by the Governor and the Legislature, and its meetings are open to the public. Video of the meetings can be seen here, here and here.

After three meetings, the group has given birth to an exhaustive survey of how medical marijuana programs have been implemented (and their costs and fees) in the states and localities that have done so, including government and private research papers, highly detailed as to who is using medical marijuana, how and why. The group's initial report is here, with follow-ups here and here.

Despite hearing from a wide number of officials, including law enforcement, many imponderables remain. The state Department of Health's preliminary estimate is that its costs (regulating dispensaries, for example) would be low -- just over $900K in year one, a bit more than $700K annually after that.

DOH estimates Florida would have 347,700 "qualified patients," 208,620 "personal caregivers" (definition here), and

629 dispensaries (1 dispensary/30,325 persons), 60 commercial transporters (transporting from cultivator/processor to dispensary or dispensary to patient), 60 processors and 60 cultivators (commercial or patient)

The FIEC believes that the amendment's proposed regulatory scheme would discourage "medical marijuana tourism," but estimated that "17,178 to 41,271 snowbirds may apply for ID cards."

The biggest unresolved current fiscal question is tax status. As reported by the Florida Current:

"The expectation is if it's legal to produce and legal to sell by the producer and it is a plant and if it is constitutionally authorized for medical use (then) I don't think the department would question whether it was (an agricultural product)," said Bob McKee, an economist with the Department of Revenue.

If marijuana is classified as an agricultural product and the grower sells it directly to the consumer it would not be taxed. If the grower sells the product to a distributor then taxation becomes less clear unless marijuana is considered a common household remedy such as castor oil or milk of magnesia. Then it remains tax-free.

An agricultural classification would also effect property tax collections. However, the FIEC could not determine whether it would be a net gain or loss for local governments.

"It is going to be specific on that parcel of land and how that parcel of land is valued today," [FIEC chair Amy] Baker said. "When you grow medical marijuana on it, whether or not that adds more property tax or takes away property taxes are both possible outcomes."

Neither the Florida Police Chiefs Association nor the Sheriffs Association could provide an estimate of their expected costs. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement deferred to Attorney General Pam Bondi. She's agin it.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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