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Raimondo puts state’s revenue over citizens’ health

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Just when you thought politicians could stoop no lower, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo issued a new proposal in her 2016 State of the State address which would effectively restrict Rhode Islanders’ access to much needed medicine. The proposal seeks to implement a per plant tax of $150 on medical marijuana users who grow their plants at home, and a $350 per plant tax on caregivers who grow marijuana in their homes for distribution to no more than five patients. This is nothing more than a naked attempt to play on Rhode Islanders’ fears and prejudices about marijuana so that Raimondo may line the state’s perpetually empty coffers.

Raimondo and her supporters justify the proposal not by the revenue it would garner for Rhode Island, but instead by claiming it would “level the playing field” between the already heavily-taxed Compassion Centers — the state’s licensed medical marijuana distribution centers — and the mostly untaxed home-growers. In other words, Raimondo would prefer to increase the cost imposed on self-treating patients rather than decrease the cost of commercial providers. Instead of making access to medicine easier across the board, Raimondo seeks to uniformly restrict access to it. There is no other way to describe this logic than malicious.

According to JoAnne Leppanen, director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, the calls are flooding in from patients who are “incredibly stressed out.” Leppanen describes many medical marijuana patients as “disabled and liv[ing] on less than $1,000 a month.”

In a further effort to dispel the notion that the proposal is aimed at revenue enhancement, the state argues that the tag-and-tax system will ensure better regulation and oversight of plants being grown at home. It’s unclear how levying a hefty tax on patients would provide for more effective state regulation. If anything, the tax will increase the likelihood that a home-grower will risk selling his or her product illegally in order to help cover the increased cost of growing.

Imagine Raimondo proposing any other form of taxation on patients, such as hiking the cost of chemotherapy or hospice care. Raimondo knows all too well that the stigma still attached to marijuana makes backlash against her proposal less likely. Reason’s Jacob Sullum says of states’ pot-tax craze: “After all the talk about how marijuana is no worse than alcohol in moral terms and better in terms of health hazards, it hardly seems fair or reasonable to impose taxes that imply it’s much worse. Dangling the promise of found money in front of voters tends to undermine the moral case against pot prohibition.” Raimondo’s proposal is so much more insidious given that she seeks to tax those relying on the plant for medical treatment, as opposed to recreational users.

Regardless of the underlying motivation behind Raimondo’s new proposal, the fact remains clear: She wants to make it more difficult to alleviate pain and suffering. If Raimondo succeeds in enacting the tax, civil disobedience by Rhode Islanders is the only appropriate response. Placing undue financial burden on the most vulnerable members of society is absolutely shameful behavior for anyone self-describing as a “bold progressive.”


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