BOSTON -- Medical marijuana is exempt from sales tax in Massachusetts, but that may change if an amendment to the state budget from Sen. Brian A. Joyce gains support.
On Tuesday as a substance-abuse prevention and treatment bill passed through the Senate, Joyce, a Milton Democrat, attempted to add several amendments to the legislation, including the introduction of a sales tax on medical marijuana. That amendment was found to be ineligible for the substance-abuse bill, but on Wednesday Joyce confirmed that he plans to file it with the state budget.
Joyce said the referendum that legalized medical marijuana was written by lobbyists for the medical- marijuana industry, not the Legislature, and it is inconsistent not to have a sales tax on medical marijuana.
State law exempts prescription drugs from the sales tax, but Joyce said the federal definition of medical marijuana does not define it as a prescription drug. He said over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and cough medicine are subject to the sales tax and medical marijuana should be, too.
"I want to be consistent with federal law," said Joyce.
Joyce said 10 other states have both medical marijuana and a sales-tax exemption for prescription drugs. All 10 tax medical marijuana, he said.
Those states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and the district of Washington D.C.
Joyce said the state is being devastated from the fallout from substance abuse. He estimated the tax would bring in $60 million annually that could be put toward substance-abuse counseling and prevention.
State Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, said he thought the amendment was a good idea, but he believes tacking it onto the substance-abuse bill was the wrong avenue.
Carly Antonellis, legislative aide to state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, said the amendment was ruled out of order, as money and tax bills must start in the House.
The state budget has already passed the House. Senators have until Friday to issue amendments to the budget before it is debated next week.
Maryann Merigan, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, confirmed there is no tax of any kind for medical marijuana at this time. She said her department would need guidance from elected officials before going forward with one.
Several lawmakers said they are withholding judgment on Joyce's proposal until he finalizes the details.
"Most states that have a sales tax and medical marijuana do tax it," said state Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer, D-Barre. He said the widespread use of medical-marijuana sales taxes in other states implies it is a good idea.
"We're not the only ones doing this," he added, although his mind is not yet made up.
Brewer added that while the tax sounds good on the surface, 26 years in office has taught him to wait until he knows all the minute details before he takes a side on new legislation.
"I reserve judgment until I drill down," said Brewer.
Brewer is a supporter of medical marijuana but opposes legalizing the drug for recreational use, even if it would create new tax revenue.
State Rep. Steve DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, also said he is reserving judgment for now. He said he understands Joyce's reasoning but isn't convinced substance abuse is the top priority that new revenue should go to. DiNatale listed veteran services, education or disability services as other important issues in need of funding.
DiNatale identified himself as a supporter of medical marijuana. Antonellis said Flanagan has also not taken a position at this time.
Follow Michael Hartwell at facebook.com/michaelhartwell or on Twitter or Tout @Sehartwell.