The wages of sin are ... taxes

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Any thought I might have had of voting in favor of the Question 9 marijuana initiative went up in smoke this week when a proponent said it could generate millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Is nothing sacred?

This news came on the same day Gov. Kenny Guinn said he favors raising the taxes on cigarettes, liquor, gambling and retail sales.

These are the so-called "sin" taxes.

(If you don't think retail sales are a sin, then you haven't been shopping at the mall with my family on the day after Thanksgiving. They should belong to Shoppers Anonymous, but they won't admit they have a problem.)

See, the only reason marijuana isn't taxed now is that it's illegal. Marijuana, I mean. Not taxes.

So Billy Rogers, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said legalizing pot in Nevada could generate $28 million a year in taxes.

This is an important issue, because Nevada is so short of money right now they're thinking of leasing out space on the capital plaza for an upscale shopping center. (That's a joke, as far as I know.)

So every little scrap of tax revenue that could possible be wrung out of the populace is being considered by the Governor's Task Force on Wringing Every Possible Scrap of Tax Revenue Out of the Populace.

Cigarettes, liquor, gambling, dryer lint, a state lottery, going to a movie, bowling, walking and chewing gum at the same time -- they're all fair game.

But until this week, I suspect the Governor's Task Force on Wringing Every Possible Scrap of Tax Revenue Out of the Populace hadn't even considered the pro-pot Question 9 as a revenue source.

Had task force members been puffing pot at their meetings, however, it eventually would have come up. You know how these things happen in state government's smoke-filled back rooms.

The chairman comes in carrying an armload of Carl's Jr. bags with enough cheeseburgers to feed an army.

"Hey, dudes," he says, slapping palms with other Task Force members. "Sorry I took so long with the burgers, man, but I got half-way through the drive-up and couldn't remember what I was supposed to be doing. I had to go through twice."

"That's cool. That's cool. No hassles, man. Where are the Cokes?"

"Oh, wow. I thought you had them. I'll go back."

"No, that's alright. We need to get some business done here figuring out which taxes to raise so the state of Nevada will have enough money to operate for two more years. Put on some Pink Floyd."

"Hey, I've got an idea."

"What is it?"

"I can't remember."

"Well, try."

"OK. OK. I think I've got it. Wouldn't it be funny if we taxed marijuana?"

The group gets a good chuckle out of that. The sound of cash registers is ka-chinking in the background as Pink Floyd launches into "Money" on the stereo.

"Wait, I'm serious. We endorse Question 9, legalize marijuana and start collecting taxes on it. Think of all the millions of dollars that passes hands between the pot smokers and the dealers, and we're not getting a dime of it. That's just not the American way."

"Oh, dude. That's so bogus. You would put a tax on weed? I thought you were cool."

The Task Force zones out for awhile while they consider whether it would be cool to tax marijuana.

"You know, we tax cigarettes ..."

"And booze ..."

"We get lots of tax money from gambling."

"This would be just another sin tax, wouldn't it? It would fit right in with Nevada. Land of opportunity. Free rein. Anything goes. You know, as long as the people who are doing it are adults, they have the right to decide for themselves whether they partake in any particular activity."

"Yeah, it wouldn't be like we were forcing them to do something. We'd just be collecting some taxes from it in order to support the legitimate functions of state government. It could be awesome!"

The Task Force members start busily scribbling notes to make recommendations to the governor. The CD changer finishes with the Floyd and switches over to Elton John.

The chairman looks up from his notes. "Hey, are there any other possibilities we might have overlooked for additional sin taxes? I mean, the governor gave us specific instructions to look at everything."

"I don't know. Let's see. There is another issue on the ballot. It's this Question 2 'Protection of Marriage' thing. What do you think that's about?"

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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