We came from different directions. Allen St. Pierre, who is stepping down as head of NORML, the cannabis consumer lobby, wanted to legalize marijuana for consumers; I wanted to raise revenue from something whose externalities were less positive than, say, wages paid to workers, which we tax so widely now — while we say America’s most important issue is jobs.
Allen figured that when marijuana got legalized, the public would get a cut. I figured the public would get nothing from cannabis unless the government tolerated it.
Allen was willing to say this on the record: “Consumers will pay whatever vice tax society wants so long as the taxes are sufficiently low enough so as not to foster an untaxed and unregulated black market in cannabis production and sales.”
That may seem obvious – consumers will take the best deal they can get. But some folks in the marijuana community think the plant should be treated like tomatoes, or aspirin, with no special taxes, and there is no proving them wrong. That’s a value judgment. Allen’s harshest critics may have been within the marijuana community. (Pro-tax and anti-tax forces in the marijuana community are sometimes enemies. That’s different from the my former work in federal tax policy for Congress in DC, where tax-raising staffers like me and anti-tax staffers and lobbyists could be friends, and weren’t personal enemies. But that was long ago. And tax policy was an exclusive world.)
Allen understood where I was coming from. And vice versa, starting before 2011. Sometimes issues made me Allen’s ally; sometimes they made me more like a fellow traveler. But I could always count on him for honest answers, and he had a wealth of information. And he was willing to share it. I consider him a friend, and wish him and his growing family all the best.