California: No to medical marijuana, Yes to taxing it

“The California midterm election also saw more than a dozen local pro-medical marijuana initiatives fail in the state — even though every proposed medical cannabis tax passed.” Story here  and at


Introduction to Excise Taxes, by Sean Lowry of CRS

Federal Excise Taxes — Lowry is a good introduction to the field.  I learned some things, like this example:

ad valorem taxes imposed at the manufacturer’s level could provide an incentive for value-added options to be ordered further down the supply chain in an attempt to minimize the tax burden. For example, the manufacturer tax on firearms is levied on the assembly of a complete rifle, but any add-ons or modification kits to that rifle are not taxed.

Continue reading “Introduction to Excise Taxes, by Sean Lowry of CRS”

Video of RI panel

A video of the November 18, 2014, Rhode Island panel on marijuana legalization is here: ( In the second panel, the lower video, I come in at about the 18’20” mark with comments about how collapsing pre-tax prices might create problems.  Other panelists are Michelle McKenzie, Senator Josh Miller, and Mason Tvert.  Jared Moffatt moderates.



State marijuana monopolies: I take it back

Oops.  The detailed analysis of the economics of a federal marijuana tax by the Congressional Research Service (Gravelle and Lowry) cites an article of mine for the proposition that “state monopolies for marijuana production or distribution cannot occur while it is still illegal at the federal level because state governments cannot force the employees of such hypothetical operations to engage in the marketing of a drug that is illegal at the federal level. See Pat Oglesby, ‘States May Be Stuck with Second-Best Marijuana Taxes,’ State Tax Notes, June 2, 2014, pp. 539-544.”

I wrote that, but I now see a possible path to state marijuana monopoly. The doctrine of judicial standing means that if you violate federal law, I probably can’t sue you (and I can’t sue the federal government either). So if you are not paying your taxes, or if you are falsely claiming disability benefits, I can’t take you to court. I can turn you in, or tell the press. It’s up to the federal government to enforce the law.

Substitute “a state” for “you” in that thinking and you kind of get the doctrine of standing. A state that violates a federal law is not subject to Citizen’s Arrest. If the federal government lets the violation go, the courts probably will, too.

A difficult path.  More to come.


CRS on Marijuana Tax Economics

Jane Gravelle, whom I remember from the 1980s as a true tax professional, and a colleague named Sean Lowry have issued a report on marijuana taxation here (,  It’s more economics than law, and I don’t agree with some of it, but I feel like the field of folks looking at the minutiae of marijuana tax design has expanded.  I think that’s good for America.

Religion remains established for lack of standing

If the government wrote a check to every church’s minister, that would be Establishment of Religion, right?  Then what about tax breaks for every minister?  Code section 107 gives tax breaks for housing to any “minister of the gospel” (expanded in Regs to cover rabbis, imams, etc.).  If that’s not the kind of caught-red-handed establishment of religion the Founders forbade in the 1st Amendment, what is?

But the Seventh Circuit found yesterday that plaintiffs challenging the tax break for “ministers of the gospel” in Code section 107 lacked standing to sue. No particular personal injury Continue reading “Religion remains established for lack of standing”