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Which States Budgets Are Benefitting From Medical Marijuana -- and Who Is Missing Out?


Among the states where cannabis is a legal drug, and the two where recreational pot is now legal, there are massive discrepancies between the amount of tax revenue generated. Here's why.


The Nice Guys

Not everyone takes such a calculating approach to their weed industry, of course. Taxing cannabis channels can aid the budget, but there's no such thing as a free munchie. The following states have taken the high road, so to speak, forgoing the tax profit tins in favor of keeping the product affordable to the sick and the needy.
New Mexico
Medical marijuana legalized? Yes.
Decriminalization: No.
Sources: Private cultivation, plus around two-dozen licensed producers.
Tax rate: Varies by locality.
Revenue: $700,000 annually according to the most optimistic projections, with an important asterisk.

New Mexico's Medical Cannabis Program is a bit of a mixed bag. State advocates laud the MCP's discipline and efficiency, though some patients lament that regulators present unnecessary obstacles to those seeking pain relief.

For the first few years following the magic leaf's introduction in 2007, the state only collected a few thousand dollars from application and license fees. The annual fee on producers grows larger the longer the merchant has been in business, however, beginning at $5,000 for the first year and capping at $30,000 for the third and beyond. These impositions on producers contribute to the bulk of the program's funding, in addition to around $100,000 a year from tax receipts.

New Mexico also maintains exceptionally tight control over the issuance of cannabis permits. Rather than leaving them to the discretion of physicians, the state requires each potential patient to first provide a doctor's certification that he or she has one of 15 approved conditions, and then apply to the state agency that reviews the request and decides whether to issue the card.

Prescription: Subtracting the costs of operation, the mid-six-figure revenue from medical marijuana doesn't even amount to 1% of 1% of the state's $5 billion in collections last year. If New Mexico is committed to keeping the program a closed system, its main goal ought to be ensuring that every patient has access to the appropriate amount of treatment.
Medical marijuana legalized? Yes.
Decriminalization: Only in Ann Arbor.
Sources: Private cultivation by patients and approved caregivers.
Tax rate: Exempt.
Revenue: Around $9 million, extrapolating from 2011 figures.

According to a 2011 article from Michigan periodical Heritage Newspapers, while "the idea of medical marijuana as a revenue stream in Michigan has been explored among policy makers, it is not an agenda driver." The current policy regards cannabis production as a "personal caregiver service," and thus exempt from taxation. Nonetheless, Michigan has managed to put up some impressive figures with license fees for patients and providers both. The state has issued over 125,000 patient IDs since applications opened in April of 2009. The exact obligation on the patient varies according to need, but an average of around $70 per application translates to $9 million over a few years.

In lieu of the more common dispensary system, Michigan allows individuals to register as private caregivers, to grow and sell product to up to a dozen patients. This decentralized network presents a challenge to Lansing if it ever changes its mind about the taxability of marijuana, but the fees are turning a decent profit by themselves. Caregivers must pay $100 for each patient receiving their provisions, up to a cap of five. Some 35,000 caregivers had been registered in Michigan by midway through 2011, earning the state a $4 million net gain in the first half of the 2011 fiscal year.

Prescription: $9 million is nothing to sneeze at, but as is the theme of these examinations, it must be put into the context of the total budget. Compared to the $23 billion in tax revenue the state received in 2011, even the low eight figures would be slightly underachieving. The need for medical marijuana (or "marihuana," as the state decides to spell it) certainly exists, but it may take a robust dispensary network before the treasury starts to feel any effects.
Medical marijuana legalized? Yes, since 2000!
Decriminalization: Only in Hawaii County, home to about 13% of the state's population.
Sources: Private cultivation by patients and approved caregivers.
Tax rate: Proposed flat tax, pending approval of dispensaries.
Revenue: Uncertain, estimated low five figures.

The Aloha State welcomed the sticky sanative way back in 2000, permitting patients to maintain private cannabis gardens at a physician's recommendation. Without any centralized distribution venues, the treasury doesn't see any green past the initial application fees from its 8,000-plus registered users and approximately 1,000 caregivers. The state senate introduced a bill to open a dispensary on each island and tax sales at $30 per ounce, which in practice would amount to anywhere from $0.08 to $0.25 on the dollar, but the proposal has yet to make it to the governor's desk.

Prescription: If Hawaii wants to follow in the footsteps of successful mainlanders, the first move would be to allow each caregiver to provide for more than a single patient, as stipulated in the current code, while also increasing the annual licensing fees.
Medical marijuana legalized? Yes.
Decriminalization: Don't count on it.
Sources: Private cultivation by patients and licensed caregivers.
Tax rate: Only application fees.
Revenue: At least $500,000 a year

Democrats in the Big Sky Country have defended against dozens of attempts by Republican legislators and former governor Tim Pawlenty to cripple or repeal the medical marijuana legislation, even after voters embraced herbal remedies with a healthy 62% to 38% vote in 2004. The small application and renewal fees on patients and producers have still been bringing in over $500,000 every 12 months, despite additional opposition on the national level.

The federal government remains firmly opposed to medical marijuana in Montana, as evidenced by the DEA's crackdown on state-legal dispensaries earlier this year. The persistent schism in Helena has made passing any additive measures difficult, with no excises beyond the license fee likely to apply in the near future.

Prescription: The half-a-mil the program brings in would be nothing to write home about in absolute terms, but as the smallest economy on this list, ($2.3 billion in tax revenue in 2011) Montana is keeping up with the average.
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