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Herman: Pot illegal - but taxable - in Texas

By Ken Herman
Jan. 3, 2013 at 11 p.m.

A friend and former colleague, noting that Colorado and Washington have made pot smoking almost mandatory, suggests I remind you that marijuana remains illegal, though taxable, in Texas.

Our state Legislature, periodically praised as among the nation's top 40, could change that during the 2013 session, which will begin Tuesday. But don't inhale deeply and hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

So far, all I see is legislation from Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, that would change possession of less than a gram of pot to a Class A misdemeanor instead of a state jail felony.

The Legislature still could legalize marijuana. And the legislative session could end without a lawmaker doing something to cause us coast-to-coast embarrassment. The odds are about the same for both.

So, until otherwise notified, here's the reminder: There is a state tax on marijuana (spelled "marihuana" in the law). If owed, please pay it. I would, however, enjoy seeing someone challenge the law based on a claim that what you possessed was marijuana, not marihuana.

The tax is levied on dealers, defined in the law as someone who "imports into this state or manufactures, produces, acquires or possesses ... more than four ounces of a taxable substance consisting of or containing marihuana."

To show the tax has been paid, the state comptroller sells stamps featuring the grim reaper and the word "DRUGS" with arrows leading in opposite directions to the words "DEATH" and "TAXES." Subtle.

As with all taxpayer information, the comptroller must keep marijuana tax payments confidential, which means he or she can't call the cops and turn you in.

The tax rate is $3.50 per gram, with a 4-ounce minimum, due when a dealer "imports, manufactures, produces, acquires and/or possesses a controlled substance."

Who, when not stoned beyond reasonable judgment, would pay the marijuana tax? Good question, and as I told you above, we're not allowed to know. But there's evidence that some folks are paying it. The state does not separate marijuana tax collections, but overall collection of the levy on illegal controlled substances has ranged in the past six years from a low of $877 in fiscal 2010 to a high (pardon the expression) of $10,660 in fiscal 2012, which ended Aug. 31.

Collection of the tax, on the books since 1989, peaked at $534,269 in 1993. Anybody have a theory about that year?

The stamps seem to have some souvenir value. A version of the controlled substance stamp was offered on eBay this month for $99.95. Drug test, please, for anybody who'd pay that much for the stamp.

I find marijuana users amusing in kind of a disturbing, willing-to-break-the-law-because-it-makes-them-comfortably-numb kind of way. And I found an interesting online conversation about the Texas marijuana tax. It's on and was instigated by metalchick832.

"I know we're not supposed to discuss 'dealing' on this website, but I had planned to give away some of my bud as a gift to friends. Apparently these gifts have to be stamped too. My question is this: Does anyone know how to acquire these stamps legally but not be too open about it?"

The correct response, of course, is that paying the tax can't lead to prosecution. The more amusing responses came from metalchick832's peers on

"I don't get it," said The StickyIcky. "You can legally sell drugs in Texas?"

Mr. Wakenbake said, "The stamps are a government scam. To get them you must have the marijuana in hand, which is illegal and an automatic arrest. Also they don't even print 'em."

Wrong, wrong and wrong, Mr. Wakenbake, as was Pussum, who said, "You might as well walk up to the cops with a bag of grow and stick out your wrist if you try to acquire one of those stamps. ... Remember, no matter how you slice it, the gov(ernment) still thinks weed is illegal."

No, it's not that the Texas government still thinks weed is illegal; it really is illegal. For now, the status remains quo. Marijuana is illegal, but taxable, in Texas.

If you're going to do the crime, you must be willing to pay the dime.

<em>- Ken Herman writes for the Austin American-Statesman.</em>



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