SB 465 to extend a special excise tax on medical marijuana won approval without dissenting vote in the House Rules Committee today, leaving it only a House vote away from approval.

The tax was imposed in 2017 to cover the cost of setting up the medical marijuana, but it was extended for two years in 2019 to put money in a trust fund for a cancer institute being established at UAMS.

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Melissa Fults, a marijuana advocate, urged the committee to defeat the bill because it was a cost assessed on sick people who pay a rate for medical marijuana about three times the average charged in other states (roughly $400 an ounce). The 4 percent tax, plus the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax, is applied to the purchase price and produces more than $13 million a year, with more than $12 million going to UAMS’ trust fund. Prescription drugs are exempt from such taxes and they are also covered by insurance, while medical marijuana is not, Fults said.

If the legislature wants to make some serious money on marijuana for cancer research, it should legalize marijuana. That could produce $59 million a year, she said.

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Sen. Jonathan Dismang, carrying the bill for UAMS, didn’t respond to her argument nor did any members of the committee before giving it routine approval. It’s a good time to remember that, in creating this institute, the legislature also protected the cancer-causing tobacco lobby from any meaningful costs to pay for the institute.

Unrelated: Same committee gave easy approval to Sen. Larry Teague’s bill to allow confidentiality for big lottery winners. Press people opposed it. Teague said a billionaire winner would have to hire private security for grandchildren without this protection. Really. He said that. He also said the end of publicity wouldn’t mean it would be easier for people to do scams. He trusts the lottery, he said, to police things.

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