Colorado Even Tried Pot Tax Stamps
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Colorado Even Tried Pot Tax Stamps
Posted by CN Staff on November 22, 2009 at 08:00:56 PT
By Jerry Kopel
Source: Pueblo Chieftain 
Colorado -- Medical marijuana not only makes legal sense, it also can make legal cents for Colorado's future budgets. How Colorado got this far is based on past experience and also President Barack Obama's "advice" to the U.S. Justice Department. The past: In the 1988 Colorado General Assembly, then-Majority Leader Chris Paulson introduced House Bill 1167 to impose a stamp tax on marijuana and controlled substances.In fairness, Paulson didn't dream it up. The concept came from a book of suggested legislation for conservatives and the law had been adopted in several other states. By 1994, similar laws were adopted by a total of 27 states.
In the Colorado version, which took effect Jan. 1 1989, the tax was $100 per ounce of marijuana and $1,000 per ounce of an illegal controlled substance."Payment of the tax . . . shall be evidenced by the affixing of stamps to packages containing a controlled substance or marijuana." It would be up to the State Revenue Department to determine the type of stamp. But the department was told by statute to handle the taxable drug transactions in cash. The reason was to avoid a constitutional problem of self-incrimination. Those buying would not be asked for identification or proof that he or she possessed illegal drugs.The penalty for the "owner" of the illegal drug who didn't have the tax stamp affixed would be 10 times the amount of taxes owed. That was reduced to "three times" by amendment in 1993 to HB1088. However, if you were "legally " in possession of marijuana or controlled substances, you did not owe any tax.The Denver Post report on the debate in the House said, "Rep. Kopel (this writer) voiced the only opposition to the idea during discussion on the House floor . . . stating that 'enacting a drug tax would send the wrong message by implying there is something OK about drugs or they wouldn't be taxed by the state government.' "Final votes were 45-14 in the House and 22-11 in the Senate. Opposition in both houses was bipartisan. When the bill reached Gov. Roy Romer's desk, there was significant opposition raised, including the Colorado Federation of Parents For Drug Free Youth, Inc., who urged a veto. Instead Romer issued a letter stating HB1167 "has become law without my signature."Romer wrote that opposition groups "have expressed doubts about whether this legislation can be enforced and whether young people will understand taxation of an illegal pursuit."The press had a field day as Jan. 1, 1989, approached. In the Colorado's stamp center was the seal of the state that you also see on legislative stationery, colored green for marijuana, red for controlled substances and the words "marijuana" and "controlled substances."Revenue spokewoman Kathy Kanda told the Denver Post, "We're still trying to figure out how one would affix the stamps and to what. Will they stick onto Ziplock bags, or whatever?" One thousand stamps were printed.The first stamp was purchased by Woody Paige of the Denver Post who then made back the $100 cost by writing a column about his venture. And that first sale didn't happen until the third day of availability. Paige told how to attach the stamps: "Bag top is to be folded down at least one inch. The stamp is to be placed in the center of the bag overlapping the edge and sticking to the bag so that the stamp will be destroyed when the bag is opened."According to information given me through 1994, there were 35 other stamps sold on marijuana and none on controlled substances.In June 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that doomed Colorado's drug tax law. By 5-4, the court expanded the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy (multiple punishments for the same offense) to taxation. The opinion, written by Justice Paul Stevens, said states may not follow up a narcotics conviction by imposing a tax on illegal drugs.How does a history of drug stamps affect medical marijuana?Amendment 20 (Section 14 of Article 18 of the state constitution) spells out how legal growing, selling and buying of medical marijuana is to work. However, the constitution does not deny the Legislature the ability to pass additional language insofar as it does not conflict with the constitution.So a legal tax could be levied on the dealers, at least as far as Colorado law is concerned. On the federal level, President Obama told the Justice Department basically to leave "real" medical marijuana alone.The HB1167 discussion does not apply to medical marijuana. The constitution provides for a reasonable use of the plant being sold and it has nothing to do with other controlled substances.It would be useful for the Legislature to seek a Colorado Supreme Court judgment on a bill dealing with the legality of taxing profit made by dealers in medical marijuana.Note: Jerry Kopel, a Denver Democrat, served 22 years in the Colorado House of Representatives.Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)Author: Jerry KopelPublished: November 22, 2009 Copyright: 2009 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.Contact: newsroom chieftain.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 
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