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by Peter Moskos

January 23, 2008

A drug tax

New York Times ace reporter Sewell Chan reports a proposed New York State tax on marijuana ($3.50/gram) and cocaine ($200/gram). If this tax survives court challenges, it is expected to raise over $10 million per year.

These taxes are always a little strange and constitutionally questionable on grounds of double jeopardy. The real goal is to give law enforcement more tools: if you can't prove intent to sell, at least you can bang 'em on tax evasion. This is, like Ethan Nadelmann puts it, "a gratuitous piling-on in the drug war."

But I'm still for it. Anything that sets the framework for drug regulation (intended or not) is a good thing. If drugs are already "taxed," it's a much smaller step to what's really needed: regulated and controlled selling. And it opens peoples' mind to the idea that there is legal revenue that can be gained in selling drugs.

The article says that Tennessee imposed a tax on illegal drugs in 2005 and collected $3.5 million in two years before the law was found to be unconstitutional. I'd be very curious to know if any of that money was from drug dealers. Probably not. It's probably just curious spectators of the war on drugs, people like me, eager to collect a drug dealing stamp.

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