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Nanny State Of The Week: It’s nanny-on-nanny in Portland pot dispute

By   /   August 1, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 90 of 121 in the series Nanny State of the Week

A major push for marijuana legalization across the country has led to a strange conflict between the traditionally left-wing legalization movement and another movement on the left: second-hand smoke crusaders.

In a clash that legitimizes the geographic stereotype, Portland, Oregon, clean-air advocates have managed to raise a big enough stink about marijuana legalization that they’re getting a ballot initiative for an extra city-specific tax on the new consumer product — 3 percent, that would go to unspecified clean-air and health initiatives – though there is a dispute on the city council if the money should be earmarked.

 (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

An unidentified man smokes marijuana at the Cannabis Café, in Portland, Ore. A new proposal would slap a 3 percent tax on weed bought in the city.

“To use some of the money to protect people’s lungs from other pollutants,” commissioner Steve Novick said, according to the Oregonian, “I think is reasonable.”

This 3 percent Portland-only tax on recreational marijuana would come on top of a 17 percent statewide tax, and would raise up to a projected $5 million from marijuana-purchasing taxpayers.

Sin taxes are levied all across the country, at different levels of government, and are almost always misprojected, misallocated and contradictory.

When Colorado legalized and taxed marijuana, it first blew a hole in the budget because the politicians spent the money before it came in; then it outpaced all projections.

The logic behind sin taxes – that governments should tax behaviors that are bad for people, thus discouraging use, and the tax revenue behind it – is self-defeating. If Portland plans on spending its tax money that will likely drive business away, it could end up being a problem. A 3 percent tax isn’t much, but it’s likely to incentivize people to drive 10 minutes to save money outside the jurisdiction.

The clean-air advocates might not end up getting their money, anyway – and it’s likely not going to actually discourage any Portlandians to give up weed. To do that, it would probably have to be much higher.

So Portland needs to be careful about where this new sin tax leads them.

Oregon’s tax on tobacco products is 65 percent, and its liquor tax is the second-highest in the country.

Part of 121 in the series Nanny State of the Week
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Kevin Glass is Director of Policy and Outreach at the Franklin Center. He has covered politics and policy in Washington, D.C. for eight years. A graduate of Colgate University, Kevin has served as Assistant Managing Editor at the Washington Examiner and Managing Editor at Townhall. He has been published by National Review, The American Spectator, and The Atlantic, among others. He lives in Washington, D.C.