Colson: Will fiscal realities cripple the war on pot?
There are so many ways that our government can be said to be at war with the citizenry that they are difficult to count, and sometimes those wars have mingled historical contexts.
The most glaring recent example of such a war, in starkly racial terms, is the ongoing turbulence over the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white cop, on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Following a confusing and hotly debated grand jury deliberation, the grand jury (nine whites, three blacks) declined to indict Wilson on any charges, seeming to endorse the conclusion by police and prosecutors that Brown acted aggressively and with hostility after being stopped on suspicion of shoplifting, and that he deserved what he got.
The eruption of protests over the grand jury decision is not a surprise to anyone who has paid any attention at all to the history of this country’s black population.
Beginning with the importation of blacks as slaves starting in the 1600s, right up until today, most of black America feels it is under a state of siege by white America at all times and in all places, and that fighting back is its only option.
There is another, equally nonsensical and peripherally related brand of warfare that has been going on for nearly a century, the War on Drugs, which really is a war waged by the state’s police agencies, against people accused of violating the nation’s draconian and idiotic drug laws, mainly those that outlaw marijuana.
Of course, the war on pot wasn’t known as the War on Drugs when it got started back in the early 1900s, as racist and anti-immigration forces got states west of the Mississippi River to pass laws against possessing or consuming pot, laws reportedly aimed primarily at Mexican immigrants who were bringing the weed across the border with them.
The war on pot really took off, though, under the reign of Harry J. Anslinger, once assistant-head of the nation’s Bureau of Prohibition, who was named head of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Although cocaine and heroin already were targeted for persecution by the feds, it was Anslinger who realized that pot was his real ticket to fame and power, as pot use had spread from Mexican immigrants to blacks and musicians and could be exploited as a threat against the virtue of white society and, particularly, white women.
His stratagem, obviously, worked for a while, and today more than half of all U.S. prisoners convicted on drug offenses were charged with simple possession of pot, a hideous and unsupportable circumstance that may be changing.
Because we also now are in the odd situation where about a third of the states of the Union have wised up and have legalized, decriminalized or otherwise normalized the use of pot for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia all have approved adult use of marijuana recreationally, and 23 other states permit pot to be used legally for medicinal purposes.
In addition, nine more states this year (Wisconsin, Utah, North Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi, Minnesota, Kentucky, Iowa and Alabama) passed laws permitting the use of cannabis-extract oil by individuals with certain diseases, such as severe epilepsy.
But the feds still classify pot as a drug as “dangerous” as opiates, and in all those states where it legally can be grown, packaged, sold and used either recreationally or medicinally, those who grow it, process it and sell it are, in effect, repeat felons every day they open for business.
And one result of that is they are paying taxes in the 70 percent range on every sale of their products, compared to taxes of 30 percent or 40 percent for traditional businesses, thanks to a special Internal Revenue Service rule known as 280E.
Internal Revenue Code 280E disallows any business selling Schedule I or II illegal drugs, including marijuana, from deducting routine expenses associated with sales, including advertising, employee salaries and building leases, resulting in the higher tax rates. This strikes me as highly hypocritical, as it puts our government in the position of profiting hugely off the sale of federally outlawed substances, but that’s a topic for another day.
Anyway, now comes Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, sponsor of the Small Business Tax Equity Act, which would exempt state-licensed pot businesses from IRS tax code 280E. The legislation has a Colorado co-sponsor, Ed Perlmutter, also a Democrat, and a co-sponsor from California, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, which should give the idea a little bipartisan boost.
I’m pessimistic about the fate of Blumenauer’s bill, but strangely hopeful about the prospect of such a law making it through Congress in the future, if only because fiscal realities might trump historical stupidity.
After all, even politicians have to realize someday that they’re swimming against a tide of popular reform of marijuana laws.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.