Sunday, April 20, 2014

Conversation with a Liberal on Taxing Marijuana

Written on April 9th, 2011
Edited in April 2014
Based on a real conversation

   Me: "I heard that taxes by governments make up 20% of the price of gasoline. That's more than oil companies make in profits. And the government doesn't even provide any service for the gasoline, except letting it come into the country."

   Liberal: "Well, government provides plenty of services. Health care for retired people, for instance. The public roads that we drive on. I mean, those taxes have got to come from somewhere."

   Me: "If you can name a problem and say the taxes for it have to come from somewhere, but where they come from can be totally unrelated to the causality of the problem, then you can justify taxing any random thing just because there are problems out there...
   "Say we decide to legalize and tax marijuana. When people smoke marijuana, it causes lung cancer. It has a health detriment. I have no problem with the government taxing alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana if they spend the tax money to address health problems caused by those substances. And they do, they spend tobacco taxes on children's health care. And the public roads, some of that money comes from tolls that the people who drive on them directly have to pay while they're using them. That kind of causality-based taxation makes sense to me."

   Liberal: "Well, okay, it would be fine if we legalized medicinal marijuana, and even recreational marijuana, if the government could tax it, and it would especially make sense if that tax money were spent on medical care."

   Me: "I agree, and some estimates say that if we did that, then the price of marijuana would go down more than 90 percent."

   Liberal: "Well, in that case, I would want the government to keep the price of marijuana artificially high, like, for example, the same price it was before. You don't want people who are disadvantaged to smoke a lot of marijuana."

   Me: "That's ridiculous. First of all, price-fixing is never a good idea, whether you're keeping the price artificially high or artificially low.
   "Second, if you allow the price of marijuana to drastically decline, drug dealers aren't going to be able to afford to make any money off of it, and they'll have to look for real jobs, which would eventually cause a decrease in unemployment.
   "Third, if government forms a price cartel on marijuana and makes marijuana dispensaries sell it at that fixed price, you'd still have pot dealers who are willing to use violence against their competition, which would then be government employees selling marijuana legally.
   "Fourth, lowering the price of marijuana is not going to significantly affect the amount of pot that poor people smoke; there aren't many people that really need more than an eighth a week.
   "And lastly, why would you want to keep it difficult for poor people to afford pot? Don't you think poor people would do better to spend $45 a week on food, instead of paying that money to the government in the form of a 900% vice tax?"

   Liberal: "I don't want to make it hard for poor people to afford drugs or food! How could you assume I meant such a thing!?"

   Me: "You basically said you don't want to make it easier for poor people to do drugs affordably. That's the obvious outcome of what you proposed."

   Liberal: "Well, that's not how I meant it."

   Me: "Oh, so you just want to impose huge taxes on whatever you can for the pursuit of whatever problem you personally feel exists. Well, at least you're consistent."
   "Do you suggest we use that tax money to beat up pot dealers who out-compete the legal dispensaries? I believe that qualifies as 'change we can believe in'."

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