Pallister, patients groups slam Liberals’ cannabis tax proposals

By . Published on Nov 10, 2017 2:21pm

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and two organizations representing medical cannabis patients are slamming the federal Liberals’ proposed cannabis tax.

The Liberal government announced Friday it plans to tax cannabis with an excise duty of $1 per gram on all forms of legal cannabis, or 10 per cent of the final retail price.

Pallister warned the excise tax proposal, which would land on top of sales tax, would drive up the price of legal cannabis and hamper efforts to take profits out of the hands of criminals.

At the same time, he said the 50/50 tax-split between the feds and the provinces doesn’t give a big enough share to the provinces, which will have to do the heavy lifting on recreational marijuana policy.

Meanwhile, two patient groups — Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana and the Arthritis Society — put out a joint statement warning the new tax would “unfairly disadvantage patients.”

The groups have been trying to convince the government to drop existing sales taxes for medical cannabis to bring it in line with other prescription medications, arguing that cannabis is largely not covered by insurance and sales taxes throw up financial barriers for patients who need to access the drug.

Jonathan Zaid, executive director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, told iPolitics the excise proposal would “represent an increased cost of upwards of $500 per year for patients, many of whom are on disability and already cannot afford their medicine.”

It wasn’t just patients chiming in to oppose the new medical cannabis tax.

Canopy Growth, a major Canadian licensed producer, called it an overall “acceptable tax framework” in a statement – but criticized applying the excise tax to medical cannabis as an “unfair tax burden on chronically ill Canadians.”

NDP health critic Don Davies said that raising taxes on medical cannabis is “unfair to patients and damaging to public health,” and Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu told the Globe and Mail that it’s “just another example of the government going after the vulnerable for taxes.”

Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the ministers of health and justice, said that taxes are being set evenly across medical cannabis and recreational cannabis so people don’t abuse the medical cannabis system.

“We do not want the taxation levels to be an incentive for people to utilize that system inappropriately,” he said. “So we propose that the taxation levels for both non-medical and medical will be aligned.”

“A very strong recommendation from our task-force report, upon the examination of evidence in the consultations that they did with stakeholders, is that medical marijuana and non-medical marijuana should be taxed at precisely the same levels,” he said.

Blair argued that the proposed tax levels will achieve the Liberal government’s goal of “keeping the price sufficiently low to be competitive with an illicit market, but at the same time not creating an incentive for the consumption and purchase of this drug.”

Blair announced the tax proposal and the start of a consultation period Friday, which will end before Canada’s finance ministers meet in Ottawa come early December.

With files from Canadian Press

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