Wed
Jul 12 2006
08:49 am

I've covered the Tennessee tax stamp on illegal drugs for a while. Via the five people who emailed this to me this morning, comes the Tennessean:

A Tennessee judge has ruled that a state law requiring drug dealers to pay taxes on their cocaine, marijuana and other illicit drugs is unconstitutional.

The ruling by Davidson County Chancellor Richard Dinkins bars the state from collecting $1.1 million from Jeremy Robbins, an East Tennessee man who was arrested on federal drug conspiracy charges and ordered to pay taxes on marijuana he is accused of illegally possessing.

But it could potentially cost the state much more if the decision is upheld by higher courts and interpreted as applying to the entire state.

Good. It was a stupid idea and now it's just stupider. The purpose of the tax was to provide a means for law enforcement to enhance its coffers and this law allowed that by making it a tax issue. It also had the added benefit of completely disregarding due process of law before seizing assets. Sadly:

Last night, state officials said they would continue to enforce the tax, which has brought more than $2.7 million into state coffers since it went into effect in January 2005.

"They're just turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the opinion," said James A. H. Bell, one of the Knoxville lawyers who brought the case on behalf of Robbins. He described the state's attitude as "cavalier."

The chancellor's decision, handed down Monday, applies only to Robbins and, in any case, the state plans to appeal, said Sharon Curtis-Flair, spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office.

If it's unconstitutional, why does it apply only in one case? And this bit is scary:

Since 2005, state Department of Revenue officials have assessed $51 million in drug taxes owed, with the vast majority of the money going uncollected.

Very few people have actually bought the stamps. During the law's first year, taxpayers spent $1,492 in stamps for illegal drugs.

That's a lot of money. And people didn't buy the stamps because 1) it's stupid and 2) the state made it unnecessarily difficult to do.

The court agreed with SayUncle's due process findings:

"The court concludes that the manner in which the tax is assessed deprives taxpayers of due process and, to that extent, the statute is unconstitutional on its face," the chancellor wrote.

He also found that levying the tax and charging someone with a crime was equivalent to double jeopardy because it punished the dealer twice for the same crime.

"(The) statute violates the double jeopardy provisions of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and … the Tennessee Constitution to the extent it may be employed against a dealer otherwise subject to state prosecution relating to the unauthorized substances subject to the tax proceeding."

SayUncle: Like the courts, only faster.

ETA: Edited to take out the bad words. Knoxviews is a family show.

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