Governor Spitzer Proposes Tax Stamp on Illegal Drugs

Press Release January 22, 2008
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384

A statement from Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“I have my doubts regarding Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed bill to require all marijuana and other controlled substances in the state to have a tax stamp.

“On the one hand, it seems perfectly reasonable to require people and businesses to pay taxes on the revenue earned from selling products of any sort, whether they are legal or illegal. Indeed, in the dozen states where marijuana has been legalized for medical purposes, many of those who sell marijuana to patients are willing and even eager to pay taxes on their revenue.

“On the other hand, these tax stamp bills and laws smack of the gratuitous piling on of punitive sanctions that permeates the overall drug war. The United States already locks up people who violate the drug laws more readily, more frequently and for longer periods of time than in almost any other country — at a national cost of tens of billions of dollars per year. We also subject drug law violators to civil and criminal asset forfeiture and deprive them of all sorts of rights and privileges after they have served their sentences – – to an extent far greater than in almost any other country. More than half a million people come out of prison each year but face daunting prospects getting a fresh start, in part because they are obliged to pay fines — like this tax stamp — that end up causing far more harm than good.

“The Governor could accomplish far greater tax savings for New York taxpayers if he would move forward on his campaign commitments regarding reform of the Rockefeller drug laws. The modest reforms of 2004 and 2005 already have saved the state tens of millions of dollars — but far greater savings could be attained, with no risk to public safety, if he were to support the drug law reforms passed by the Assembly in recent years.

“And, quite frankly, New Yorkers would most benefit from a serious proposal to tax, control and regulate marijuana more or less like alcohol is today. Even though New York decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s, it still arrests people for that offense more frequently than most states that never decriminalized it. New Yorkers spend many tens of millions of dollars per year for this foolish excess, when instead the state could earn even greater amounts from taxing this ever popular consumer product. Overall consumption would likely rise only modestly given the widespread and easy availability of marijuana today notwithstanding its illegality. Virtually all New Yorkers — both those who like marijuana and those who have no interest in it — would benefit.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

Sign up for updates from DPA.