Pubdate: Mon, 08 Oct 2012
Source: Advocate, The (Baton Rouge, LA)
Copyright: 2012 The Advocate, Capital City Press
Author: Michelle Millhollon


A state legislator told the Jindal administration that he is not 
ready to go the way of Washington state and Colorado by asking voters 
to legalize and tax marijuana.

Instead, state Sen. Dan Claitor said, he thinks the Jindal 
administration is missing the opportunity to generate revenue through 
a decades-old law that attempts to collect taxes from the drug trade 
through a different angle.

A law on Louisiana's books since the 1990s requires marijuana dealers 
to pay taxes on their product by buying stamps from the state revenue 
department or face seizure of their valuables if they are arrested.

However, little money is flowing to the state from the law, prompting 
Claitor, once an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, to tell 
the Jindal administration to either pursue the tax or get rid of it.

Other states are asking voters to legalize marijuana and tax it as a 
way to generate revenue. Louisiana's approach is less direct. The 
state sells tax stamps and asks no questions about whether the buyer 
is a drug dealer or a novelty collector.

During a meeting of the Revenue Study Commission, Claitor, R-Baton 
Rouge, interrupted a discussion on tobacco- and alcohol-related tax 
breaks to ask what the state is doing to collect taxes on marijuana 
sales in Louisiana.

"I know there's a lot of marijuana going through the system," said 
Claitor, whose district covers much of south Baton Rouge.

Marijuana dealers are supposed to pay taxes for their illegal trade 
by purchasing stamps from the state revenue department. 
Alternatively, collection can be made when an arrest or seizure 
occurs, triggering reports to be filed and an assessment established.

Jason Decuir, an attorney for the revenue department, said he has not 
seen any assessments since he joined the agency last year.

"We essentially tell the criminal system, you guys, that's your 
bailiwick," Claitor said. "But we have the law on the books. It seems 
as though we ought to be making some effort to collect it."

He noted that some areas of the country are legalizing marijuana and taxing it.

Decuir said he has looked at Louisiana's law and determined there 
often are no assets to seize.

Claitor, who is a lawyer, disagreed.

"There's cash that is seized," he said. "I used to prosecute. It ends 
up going into the district attorney's till as opposed to going to the 
state of Louisiana."

Louisiana's tax, established in the 1990s, requires dealers to pay 
$3.50 in taxes for each gram of marijuana.

The idea behind the law was to require dealers to buy tax stamps from 
the state revenue department, allowing law enforcement to seize their 
homes, cars and other valuables when they are caught with unstamped drugs.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, the state collected 
$26,187 in marijuana and controlled substance taxes. Collections 
dropped to $505.53 the following year.

Presidential candidate Gary Johnson's platform includes a push to 
legalize marijuana. Johnson, a Libertarian, said the criminalization 
of drugs is increasing incarceration rates and gang violence.

Earlier this year, Rhode Island decriminalized marijuana possession 
and lowered the fine from $500 to $150, putting violations on scale 
with a parking ticket.

Voters in Colorado and Washington state will decide in November 
whether to legalize and tax marijuana. Leading Republicans are 
backing the measures even though federal law bans marijuana use. A 
number of states allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is airing a 
commercial in Colorado telling voters that a tax would create income 
for schools instead of drug cartels.

Claitor said he is not advocating going in the same direction as 
Colorado or Rhode Island. He told revenue department officials that 
they should pursue collecting Louisiana's marijuana tax or seek to 
purge the law from the books.

After Claitor finished questioning the revenue department, state Rep. 
Joel Robideaux joked that he wasn't sure what the next topic was.

"I forgot what we were doing," said Robideaux, R-Lafayette. "It must 
be those cookies that Henry brought."

State Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, owns a bakery and often brings 
treats for legislators.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom