Roger Marolt: Roger This
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Maybe because he’s a self-professed hardcore stoner for more than 30 years that legitimized him, but a guy wrote a guest piece in The Denver Post the other day about the legalization of pot in Colorado that explained in a few sentences what I haven’t been able to say clearly in about five years. He said it so calmly. He didn’t waste words. It was like an out-loud train of unconscious thought, but it made sense to me, y’all. I wish I’d written down his name, but I wasn’t really motivated. No worries. Let me summarize what he said: It’s not going to work.
Think about why we voted to legalize weed. It wasn’t because most of us think smoking pot is a good, healthy, wholesome alternative to clear lungs and thinking. The two biggest reasons we legalized the stuff are, one, that we are hopelessly losing the war on drugs and throwing away valuable resources on it, and, two, since people are going to smoke it anyway, we might as well tax the crap out of it and use the windfall to make better schools.
As for the taxing part, the stoner dude spoke from experience. He said that a lot of people wonder why the number of marijuana dispensaries in Colorado has dramatically declined since the legalization of pot. It was no magical mystery to him. He said it was because, like he, most potheads are buying product through their old familiar channels on the black market. Why? As with all consumers, the three things buyers consider most are price, convenience and quality. With pot, the black-market stuff is just as good as the store-bought stuff, but it’s cheaper, and they’ll bring it right to your car door.
Why is it cheaper? Pot sold out of a pot shop is subject to the same price pressures as a Gucci sweater. Pot dealers have to pay rent, utilities and insurance. They have to pay legal citizens at least the minimum wage. They might even have to offer good health plans and retirement accounts. They have to pony up for payroll taxes, sales tax, income tax, property tax, plus the heavy sin tax that’s going to help our schools out. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to smuggle dope across the borders and sell it out of a van down by the river.
If anything, illegal drug dealing got even cheaper with the new legislation. Remember? Since it’s legal, we aren’t going to waste as many resources on enforcement. Who’s afraid of the big bad toothless law in wolf’s clothing now? Illegal dealers have to be breathing a little easier, so to speak.
Where does that leave us? Since we ironically legalized pot for the good of our children, it sure would be nice if we could collect that tax revenue we were expecting. But, it sounds like most weed is still bought on the sly and we don’t have the legal will to crack down on that.
In order to collect the tax, then, we’ve got to hit the illegal dealers where it really hurts. We have to strictly enforce the tax laws! Go ahead and sell pot on the street, but you darn well better pay the taxes due on it. There are a lot of interested parties that need the bounty – city, county, state, the IRS – and don’t forget our school districts!
We have to go after these folks with the full force of the law, though. This can’t be a slap on the wrist or else nobody’s going to pay attention. You have to hit the tax scofflaws hard with big fines and jail time; even for the petty offenders since that would otherwise become the illegal dealers’ loophole.
We’ll have to put up walls at the borders, patrol the waterways and search all the airplanes coming in. Once that dope gets into the country duty-free, we’ve lost our best chance to collect the tax. Yeah, I understand we’ll need to have well-armed and trained enforcement troops to do this; the non-taxpayers will be equally loaded and ready for a fight. There’s big money at stake. That’s why we voted for this!
Look, we lost the war on drugs. What a colossal waste of time and resources. But, let’s learn from it. We can’t afford to lose this new war on collecting taxes. Remember, this is for the kids!
Roger Marolt is beginning to think that legal drugs aren’t going to be any better for the kids than the illegal ones were. Contact him at email@example.com.