Articles Posted in Texas Marjuana Tax Laws

iStock_000003299074XSmall.jpgStudent government at the University of Texas in Austin has attempted to pass a bill that would have been the first of its kind on any college campus in the country. Under the bill, campus police at the university would stop making arrests for simple possession of marijuana by students. While groundbreaking, campus police officials say that the bill would have been largely symbolic as officers must still enforce state laws. UT’s police department also noted that they have had an informal policy in place for the last several years of only issuing citations to students caught smoking.

Many who championed the bill pointed to the gross discrepancy in how the university treats on-campus consumption of alcohol with consumption of marijuana. Highlighting this argument is the sheer number of alcohol-related deaths that occur at the university and others just like it across the country. Known as a university with a healthy social scene, one has only to do a quick web search to see that several stories emerge every year of UT students dying tragically in senseless alcohol-related deaths. It is important to note that these are only the alcohol-related deaths that were picked up by the media, and do not even cover those related to drinking and driving. It is a senseless tragedy that too many are familiar with.

A decade-long scientific study by Claremont University professor Robert Gable found that marijuana is about 50-100 times safer than both alcohol and cocaine. In reaching this conclusion, Gable ranked the most commonly used drugs by their “safety margin”, essentially the lethal dosage of the drug divided by its effective dosage. For example, the safety margin of alcohol is 10 (330 (alcohol’s lethal dosage) divided by 33 (the amount it takes to feel its effects)). In other words, it takes 10 times as much alcohol to kill a person as it does to give them a buzz. In comparison, the safety margin of marijuana is 1,000 while cocaine has a margin of 15 and codeine has a margin of 20.

Criminalization of Marijuana in Texas Fuels Crime Pt. II: From Al Capone to the Zetas, How Prohibition Laws May Be Working Against Their Very Purpose

“There’s a reason these same gangs that deal marijuana aren’t brewing hops or selling moonshine.”

Many have been quick to point out similarities between the evils stemming from alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s and the gang and cartel violence stemming from marijuana prohibition today. In 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, banning the sale, transportation and manufacture of alcohol. Even as the amendment passed, it was clear that millions neither wanted nor respected a ban on alcohol. Rather than altering the actions of the people as it was originally intended, prohibition caused alcohol to be an extremely lucrative commodity.

ID-10095028.jpgA recent investigation by Fox 7 of Austin, Texas has discovered that a legal loophole may exist which would allow a person caught with more than 4 ounces of marijuana to argue successfully against imprisonment. This possible loophole arises by Texas having a Marijuana Tax Law in place which taxes marijuana at $3.50 an ounce, with a minimum of 4 ounces needed. Because the tax on the substance was enacted to provide an additional punishment to those criminally charged with possession, in 1996 the Texas Court of Criminal of Appeals, in Stennett v. State, stated that both criminal and tax penalties violate double jeopardy (the idea that a defendant cannot be tried twice for a crime for which he has been acquitted) and thus Stennett was set free.

According to the Fox 7 investigation, if a defendant charged with possession pays the marijuana tax at the Texas Comptroller’s office, gets a receipt, attaches it to an application for a writ of Habeas Corpus for violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause, he may be released from criminal prosecution, as Stennett was in the 1996 court decision.

Since 1996 court decision however, two legal developments could make using the tax loophole more complicated. First, in the subsequent case of Ex Parte Ward, the court ruled that a partial payment of the marijuana tax is not enough for a defendant to argue double jeopardy, even though in Stennett v. State a partial payment was enough. Second, a Texas Attorney General Opinion in 1999 stated, in his view, once a defendant has been charged with the crime of possession, the Comptroller may not thereafter attempt to collect the marijuana tax. If Comptroller does not attempt to enforce Texas tax law regarding marijuana, the Texas Attorney General believes the defendant would avoid a tax penalty so double jeopardy will not apply.

It is not certain however whether the Comptroller can abandon his or her duty to collect lawful state taxes just because a government lawyer’s opinion says so. Measures can be taken by private attorneys to force a government agency to follow the dictates of the law, such as using a “writ of mandamus“.

As written about before, Texas has a great need for new sources of state income, as well as a need to reduce government spending in certain areas. From my perspective, the 1996 Court decision gave Texas a wonderful opportunity to fulfill both needs. By taxing adults who use marijuana for industrial, medicinal or recreational purposes, Texas would gain more revenue to pay for its obligations like educating children or funding police departments. If the payment of the tax could prevent adult marijuana users from being criminally processed and imprisoned, Texas could save a large amount of money by not having to pay for items like prosecutions, court fees, and living costs for nonviolent offenders who are imprisoned.
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ID-100141995.jpgUnder current Texas tax law for controlled substances, marijuana is taxable by the state at $3.50 per gram for purchasing, acquiring, importing, manufacturing, or producing the substance. Because Texas has not legalized marijuana yet, the state government is preventing adults who use the substance from complying with Texas tax laws. By threatening such adults with arrest and imprisonment, the state government is causing Texas to miss out on the opportunity to benefit from the most profitable crop in the United States.

As seen by a recent court decision where Texas’ inadequate funding of schools was ruled unconstitutional, Texas is certainly in need of greater resources to finance its obligations toward Texas children. In 2011 the Texas Legislature voted to deprive Texas schools of $5.4 billion in funding, despite soaring school enrollments, because the state government simply didn’t have the budget for additional funding. The current Texas Legislature has the opportunity to lessen the massive hardships it previously put upon Texas schools by borrowing the ideas of the neighboring state of Colorado.

A study by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy showed that Colorado’s new law, which regulates and taxes marijuana, will produce $60 million in new revenue and savings for that state within five years. According to the submission clause of the law itself, the first $40 million raised would go to funding public schools in Colorado. Because the population of Texas is about five times greater than the population of Colorado, in my view Texas would reap even greater financial benefits than Colorado if Texas ends prohibition on marijuana. If adults in Texas are given the liberty to decide for themselves whether they want to use the substance for hemp products, recreation, or medicine, rather than have the government dictate what Texans can and cannot use, Texas could fix some of its financial troubles through increased revenue opportunities. Further, by reducing costs related to criminalizing users of the marijuana, Texas could better spend limited government resources on truly important, and constitutionally mandated, projects like adequately educating Texas children.

Fortunately for the current Texas Legislature, prior Texas law makers have already put a Marijuana Tax framework in place which can be expanded upon. Not so fortunate for Texas adults however is the fact that a marijuana user, even if he attempts to pay an authorized marijuana tax, could still face criminal charges. Until the Texas Legislature acts to regulate the substance, and in doing so creates new resources to assist in school funding, the courts remain the main battle ground for not only attempts to get more school funding, but also for seeking justice in an individual’s drug-related criminal case.
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