Washington House panel hears bill to tax medical marijuana sales

Washington House panel hears bill to tax medical marijuana sales
In this Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, marijuana is weighed and packaged for sale at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A House committee held a public hearing Monday on a measure to tax medical marijuana dispensaries, an effort to undermine any black market when sale of state-taxed recreational marijuana starts at the end of this year.

The measure would hit dispensaries with a tax equal to 25 percent of their sales of cannabis and cannabis-infused products.

The bill sponsors have said they're trying to avoid a dual market - one taxed, one not - as the state moves toward creating a regulated system for the fledgling marijuana industry created by Initiative 502.

In November, voters approved the initiative that allows adults over age 21 to have up to an ounce of pot. The state is due to start issuing licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage.

The state Liquor Control Board is in the process of developing rules for the new industry, possibly including such measures as digital tracking of inventory to prevent diversion to the black market. Sales are set to begin late this year.

The bill is one of several marijuana-related measures pending in Olympia. One would allow anyone with a misdemeanor pot conviction to have their record cleared and another would protect medical marijuana patients from arrest.

Medical patients could still grow their own 15 plants or designate someone else to grow for them, and true community gardens of up to 45 plants and 10 patients would still be allowed.

Prescription medications aren't taxed in Washington, and those in the medical marijuana community have argued that because medical marijuana requires a doctor's authorization, it should fall into that category.