|Lincoln Journal Star
|This $50 drug tax stamp is required by law for anyone selling half an ounce of marijuana in Nebraska.
Lots of folks might tell you that taxation is the first step towards legalization, but it ain’t necessarily so. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of legislatures passed laws establishing state taxes on illegal drugs — though very few people know about the taxes, and even fewer pay them. Nebraska, in 1990, was one of the states which decided to tax illicit drugs, and like most of the other state drug taxes, that law is still in effect.
People hauling drugs through Nebraska are required by law to buy stamps to affix on the packages, even though the drugs are illegal in the first place, reports Cory Matteson of the Lincoln Journal Star
. The stamp doesn’t legalize the transport, yet it’s illegal not to have it.
Nebraska’s drug tax stamps are actually pretty cool looking, for kitsch value alone. In what lawmakers must have imagined was a bold and thought-provoking design, the somber background is a tombstone marked “RIP” with the foreground featuring a skull and… not crossbones, but crossdrugs: a syringe and a fat joint.
“The 1990 Nebraska Unicameral passed and Governor Kay Orr signed LB260 establishing a state tax on illegal drugs,” said Deepa Buss, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Revenue. “The intent of the law was to give law enforcement an alternative tool against drug dealers.
“If a prosecutor couldn’t win a conviction for selling drugs, he might be able to send the suspect to prison for failing to pay the drug tax,” Buss said. “Or the prosecution could win a conviction on both charges, increasing the potential penalties.”
In the past 20 years, 531 drug tax stamps have been sold from Nebraska’s six regional Department of Revenue offices. “Purchasers of these stamps were presumed not to be drug dealers, but stamp collectors,” Buss said.
The stamps sell for $10, $50, $100, $500 and $1,000. Buss said she has no idea why the stamps were purchased; specific taxpayer information is strictly confidential, she said. That means the identity of the person who bought the only $1,000 drug tax stamp ever sold in Nebraska must forever remain a mystery.
“The stamps are sold no questions asked and the department’s records of stamp sales cannot be used as evidence against a drug dealer in any criminal action,” Buss said.
Nebraska law requires drug dealers to pay a tax of $100 per ounce of marijuana, $150 per gram of “controlled substances” like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, and $500 for 50-count units of drugs not sold by weight, such as steroids.
To prove they paid their taxes, drug dealers must affix stamps to containers of illicit substances.
Getting caught with drugs without a tax stamp comes with a possible penalty of as much as five years in prison, a $10,000 fine and double the taxable amount of any seized drugs, according to Buss.
Convictions are rare, though, according to longtime Lincoln criminal defense attorney Kirk Naylor. The charge is mostly used as a plea-bargaining tool.
But a recent client of Naylor’s went to a bench trial and lost; he was last month sentenced to 18 to 36 months in prison for distributing 49.3 pounds of marijuana, and 12 months for the tax stamp violation, although the sentences can be served concurrently.
“It didn’t cost him any more time,” Naylor said.
Naylor said he’d never heard of anyone avoiding the drug tax stamp violation by actually having the proper stamps attached to a container of marijuana.