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Monday, May 18, 2009

Tax it to death?

Today, it seems the Minnesota Legislature is debating the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use.  There are a number of arguments on both sides; I'd be leaning toward the side of legalization.

Just now it struck me, though, one option for legalization has been often brought up: legalize hemp, then tax it to death.  "But that would never work!"

Well, wait a minute, though.  We now have actual, experimental data that is, I think, entirely on point.  Essentially all 50 states have tried to do exactly that --  to tobacco.  It's legal to consume.  Sometimes it's hard to tell, but yeah, it's still not a crime to smoke a cigarette.

Is it working to keep tobacco legal, and tax it to death?  Certainly tobacco is heavily regulated.  In more and more places, cigarette smoking is treated like peeing in public; worse, since they provide public bathrooms.  And if you don't think smoking is being "taxed to death," you don't buy cigarettes in Minnesota.

Is it working?  I suspect it's working as well as deregulating any drug would work.  The casual smokers are quitting because it costs too much.  The Smokers with a capital S -- people like me, mostly older people, poorer people, military veterans and people of color -- aren't quitting, and are being steadily crushed into the dirt by the punitive taxes driven by the anti-smoking Aversion Fad.  Hating smokers is fashionable, and any abuse is acceptable, even admired.

If today's treatment of smokers is desirable, then it would be perfectly reasonable to apply the same techniques to marijuana, at least.  There are difficulties; many of the current growers are career criminals who just happen to have chosen marijuana as their specialty.  There'd be a year or two of transition -- I wonder if any of the current MJ growers might be the next Joe Kennedy...

Once it was legalized, the price would drop precipitously, and there'd likely be a boom in backyard growing, for that same couple of years.  Then, likely, some company like Archer-Daniels-Midland ("corn butcher to the world"), or one of the tobacco companies, would corner the mass-growing market, selling the fibers, and perhaps finding a way to produce ethanol from the waste.  As recently as World War II, hemp was a Vital Defense Resource or words to that effect.

And there'd be commercial producers for smoking, and Revenooers going after selling independents for tax money, nothing new there.  The market for automatic weapoons would likely fall off.  Hawaiian sugar cane fields might actually be used for growing sugar cane, of all things.

So, could it work?  Yeah, I think so?  Will anyone have the guts to try?

I doubt it.  Some folks just love Prohibition, the idiots.



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