State economists investigate bottom line of legalizing medical marijuana

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State economists will consider whether legalizing medical marijuana will be a money winner or loser for the state in a meeting Thursday of the Financial Estimating Impact Conference.

On Monday, the FEIC called a collection of state agencies, pharmacy board representatives and groups on behalf of city, county and law enforcement. The consensus was if the amendment passed, they said there would be no expected impact to their budgets, or they could not anticipate the effect.

That is why Amy Baker, chair of the FEIC, said she wants the Thursday meeting with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, reports James Call of the Florida Current.

The FEIC is in charge of determining if a proposed constitutional amendment would change the revenue stream or budgets of state and local governments.

One issue was if legalized marijuana is subject to sales tax and how the Legislature could implement a strategy triggering tax exemptions for pot as an agricultural product, which would make the sale of medical marijuana essentially tax-free.

“There are two areas that we are looking at: One is it an over-the-counter drug or a common household remedy that would be exempt?” Baker told the Current. “And if it is an agricultural product and it is sold by the person who grows it directly to the end-user then that is an area of exemption as well.”

Citizen organizations backing the proposed November 2014 constitutional amendment for legalized medical marijuana must submit nearly 700,000 signatures by the Feb. 1 deadline. According to the Current, they have nearly 200,000 so far. It the action gets support of 60 percent of voters, Floridians can then use marijuana to treat a number of ailments.

 “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 Department of Revenue economist Bob McKee.

“There is a point where an item, once converted, loses its character as an agricultural product,” McKee told the FEIC Monday. “Whether those specific products cross over to that point or not without examining the specific form in which it is sold it is hard to answer the question in a general fashion.”

Representatives of the FEIC, the DBPR will join McKee to tackle the issue again Thursday morning.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.