Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist has given his blessing to the idea of excise taxes being applied to marijuana where it is legalized. From National Journal:

But Norquist tells National Journal that lawmakers who signed the pledge and want to legalize and tax cannabis are in the clear. “That’s not a tax increase. It’s legalizing an activity and having the traditional tax applied to it,” he says.

He compares legalization to changes in alcohol regulation, as when a state legalizes the sale of liquor on Sundays or allows grocery stores to sell beer and wine where they previously couldn’t.

“When you legalize something and more people do more of it and the government gets more revenue because there’s more of it … that’s not a tax increase,” he explains. “The tax goes from 100 percent, meaning its illegal, to whatever the tax is.”

While it may not seem like much, this is a very big development for marijuana legalization. Norquist runs the most powerful tax organization in the country, Americans for Tax Reform. Its pledge not to raise taxes has been signed by almost every Congressional Republicans and numerous state officials. Republican politicians are rarely even willing to violate it and risk a primary challenge.

By taking this position Norquist is saying Republicans can vote for any bill that legalizes, taxes and regulates marijuana without worrying about breaking the anti-tax pledge.

I don’t expect this to cause a stampede of Republican politicians endorsing marijuana legalization in the coming weeks, but over the long term this will make it significantly easier for state legislatures to eventually adopt legalization.

If Norquist had instead declared this a “tax increase” that could have caused serious problems. You easily could have state legislatures where a majority of members support the idea of legalization failing to act because negotiations break down over the tax rates or how the revenue should be used. What Norquist has done is simplify the politics surrounding drafting marijuana legislation.

Photo by Gage Skidmore under Creative Commons license