Dis­ap­point­ment in Pot­landia

The per­mis­sive states line up to en­act killer taxes on mar­i­juana

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Cur­ing can­cer and elim­i­nat­ing heart dis­ease would be nice, but what the gov­ern­ment — fed­eral, state and lo­cal — would like most of all is a new source of rev­enue, i.e., some­thing new to tax.

Sev­eral of the states where mar­i­juana was le­gal­ized think they’ve found one: Pre­serve the pot­heads, for theirs is the so­lu­tion to de­clin­ing tax rev­enue.

The leg­is­la­ture in Mas­sachusetts, which long ago earned the ap­pel­la­tion “Tax­achusetts,” is con­sid­er­ing changes to a voter-ap­proved recre­ational mar­i­juana law that raise the taxes on pot, which vot­ers made re­spectable, or at least le­gal, in Novem­ber. It was orig­i­nally taxed at a col­lec­tive rate of 12 per­cent, through ex­cise, sales and other levies. If the state House and Se­nate agree, and Gov. Char­lie Baker, a Re­pub­li­can, signs it, the col­lec­tive tax would rise to 28 per­cent.

But it’s ac­tu­ally to be even higher, once the rev­enue bu­reau­crats get through fig­ur­ing out all the way to “en­hance” the higher taxes. Pot­head ad­vo­cates say the lat­est ver­sion of the leg­isla­tive pro­posal puts a 21.75 per­cent tax on sales of mar­i­juana be­tween whole­salers and re­tail­ers, and an­other 28 per­cent tax on sales from re­tail­ers to cus­tomers.

That’s a whop­per of an in­crease that crit­ics say would pre­vent le­gal­ized mar­i­juana laws from do­ing what they were sup­posed to do, and putting the black mar­ket in charge of the trade again. “It’s very, very dan­ger­ous be­cause it en­cour­ages the il­licit mar­ket, the very thing vot­ers de­cided in Novem­ber they didn’t want to see anymore,” Jim Borgh­e­sani, a spokesman for the “Yes on 4,” the suc­cess­ful bal­lot pro­posal, tells MassLive.com. “They wanted to take mar­i­juana com­merce away from the il­licit mar­ket. … What this House ver­sion does is pretty much give the in­dus­try back to the drug deal­ers.”

Recre­ational mar­i­juana ad­vo­cates want the cur­rent tax rate to stay the same, at least un­til the pot in­dus­try can get up and run­ning. Since much of the tax bill, like most tax leg­is­la­tion, was writ­ten and de­bated be­hind closed doors, pot ad­vo­cates call the tax pro­posal a sneak at­tack on the will of the vot­ers.

But you don’t have to be a pro­fes­sional tea reader to read these tea leaves. (Or­ange pekoe will do.) Puf­fers in the Bay State can bank on it that taxes on mar­i­juana sales will go up, and they’ll pay dearly for their sunken eyes and va­cant stares into space.

Other states where mar­i­juana is le­gal are watch­ing what hap­pens in Tax­achusetts. Col­lec­tive mar­i­juana tax rates range now from 17 per­cent in Ore­gon to 25 per­cent in Alaska, 39 per­cent in Colorado to 37 per­cent in the state of Wash­ing­ton.

With a con­ces­sion to the real world where ad­dic­tion is costly to ev­ery­one, the pro­posal to dra­mat­i­cally raise the tax rate in Mas­sachusetts man­dates that the first $10 mil­lion raised must be ear­marked for “sub­stance-abuse pre­ven­tion” and treat­ment pro­grams. Ad­ver­tis­ing pot would be re­stricted. Ra­dio, tele­vi­sion and bill­board ad­ver­tis­ing would be pro­hib­ited un­less ad­ver­tis­ers could prove that 71.6 per­cent of the tar­get au­di­ence is over 21 years old, neon signs would be banned in pot shops, and no lighted sign could be il­lu­mi­nated from 30 min­utes be­fore sun­set un­til clos­ing time. Drug deal­ers of all kinds work best in the dark.

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