The Oregonian reported July 3rd on “a little-known practice by Oregon social service officials – allowing certain food stamp applicants to deduct medical marijuana costs from their income when qualifying for benefits…” in an article entitled “Marijuana’s medicinal value boosted by Oregon’s food stamp deduction.” The deduction on any out-of-pocket medical expenses is only available to those who were either elderly or permanently disabled. While the headline referred to the “government nod to pot’s legitimacy” that “thrills Oregon medical marijuana patients”, using the key words “medical marijuana”, “value” and “food stamps” seemed to give the impression that patients were ‘pulling a fast one’ on the federal government, bilking them out of additional food stamps that they were not authorized to receive.
Within 9 days, another article ran in the Oregonian entitled “Oregon kills medical marijuana deduction for food stamp applicants.” In this article, Noelle Crombie reports that “[t]he U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a nationwide memo to regional directors of the food stamp program” demanding that they no longer allow the deduction and update manuals to reflect the change. The Oregon Department of Human Resources states that they will “identify all recipients who previously submitted medical marijuana deductions on their paperwork and ‘work with them to make corrections to their eligibility and benefits.’”
The real issue, however, is only glossed over. Much like the 2011 medical marijuana fee increase, which disproportionately affected the elderly and disabled who live in on fixed incomes, this federal crackdown only affects the elderly and the permanently disabled. This (small) group of patients is allowed to deduct the costs of their prescription medications and other medical expenses that are paid out-of-pocket. Many of those in this category rely on the additional $50-60 in food stamps made available by allowing their medical deductions.
While the federal government allows the deductions in income on out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs and a variety of other treatment options available to the disabled and elderly, medical marijuana must be handled differently due to the conflict in federal and state laws. And while a strict interpretation of the laws does support the stance of federal officials disallowing these deductions, J. Herbie DiFonzo, a professor of law at Hofstra University in New York, is quoted in the Oregonian identifying the crux of the issue, when he states that “the deduction is a ‘bread and butter issue’ for sick people who rely on pot.”
From a government who insists that they are not targeting the sick and disabled, this is yet another instance where the federal government has used a memo to exert their authority and to threaten the stability of anyone who dares use medical marijuana for their ailments. Landlords have been threatened for allowing marijuana cultivation or distribution of any kind, even that which complies with state law (and Harborside in California has been issued forfeiture papers); the IRS has disallowed standard business expenses for dispensaries and other patient resource centers, under a law designed to target illicit drug trafficking; the ATF has threatened to prosecute any firearms licensees for selling to those even “believed” to be medical marijuana users, under federal laws which prohibit illegal drug users from possessing firearms (again intended to target gangs and cartels, not patients who use medical marijuana and are often the target of home invasions and robberies but no longer allowed to protect themselves); and finally, the states who have been threatened via federal memos with prosecution and penalties for any involvement in regulating, overseeing, participating, advising or any other typical state activity involving medical marijuana, that would otherwise be allowed and within the state’s domain.
Ultimately, this is just yet another reason why Oregonians need to legalize marijuana this coming November. While the federal government uses memos and threats to subvert the authorization of medical marijuana, there is no chance to challenge the legitimacy of their authority. States are not likely to directly conflict with memos issued by the federal government, particularly in a time of such difficult budget constraints. And medical marijuana patients most affected are almost exclusively those who cannot afford their general life expenses, and likely have no opportunity to address the issue directly with federal authorities individually.
Gene Evans, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Human Services, explained in the Oregonian’s first article that “Medical marijuana gets treated just like any other prescription drug,” which is what the Oregon law specifically requires under the 1998 Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. But now, based on federal pressure and use of memos to threaten state officials with penalties, that is no longer the case. Medical marijuana patients are, and will continue to be, second class citizens until marijuana is recognized as a legal substance. Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2012, may change the conversation on these issues if it passes this November 6, by challenging the federal government on the issue of marijuana directly.
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