Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jun 2014
Source: Anniston Star (AL)
Copyright: 2014 Consolidated Publishing
Author: Ryan Phillips
Page: 4A


In the late 1980s, during the age of "Just Say No," Alabama lawmakers
passed a bill placing a tax on illegal drugs such as marijuana -
complete with a little green stamp to show the tax had been paid.

Charles Crumbley, director of the Investigations Division at the State
Department of Revenue, said the stamps have never been popular.

"We didn't sell a lot because drug dealers really don't want to do
that," he said.

What they did allow the state to do, however, was add tax penalties
onto the list of charges brought against drug dealers. But court
rulings took even that ability away from state tax officials.

Next, the law became a target for legislation earlier this year that
does away with taxes that collect less than the amount required to
enforce them.

But, Crumbley said, the marijuana tax doesn't fall into that category.
It's self-sustaining, he said, and not in immediate danger of being
cut, even if it does not send big returns into the state General Fund.
State accountants tallied up $ 4,615 worth of stamps sold in 2012- 13,
according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

So who buys stamps representing taxation of an illegal product? Mostly
stamp collectors, he said. It costs nothing for existing employees to
pick up the phone and sell a few stamps.

"The people that do want to talk to us will let us know immediately
that they are ( stamp) collectors," Crumbley said.

Things were different when Alabama lawmakers passed the drug stamp tax
at the height of America's war on drugs.

"At the time, we were seizing a lot of cash, jewelry and guns,"
Crumbley said. "When there is a forfeiture, they are able to forfeit
those assets used to commit the crime, but when you assess a civil
tax, it goes against any and all property."

Courts deemed the department's ability to seize property as tax
forfeiture on illegal drugs a breach of due process in the Fifth
Amendment after a landmark case in South Carolina, where similar tax
laws had been put into place. Following the change of standards,
Crumbley said, all that could be done now is sell stamps.

Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy
Project, said a tax on illegal drugs is the wrong approach. The
project is a pro-marijuana advocacy group based in Washington D. C.
supporting the decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.

"I think if the state of Alabama wants to collect tax revenue from
marijuana, they should make it legal and regulate it," she said.

Yeung then pointed out instances where other states have found success
with taxing decriminalized recreational marijuana. In the first three
months following Colorado's decision, the Centennial State netted $
7.3 million in taxes from recreational marijuana alone.

Crumbley, a co- author of the drug tax bill in Alabama, said while it
was mostly unsuccessful, a valiant effort and good intentions made it

"What we were trying to do is tax an underground economy that escapes
normal taxation that everyone pays," he said. "Regretfully, we have
not been successful."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt