Watching the television coverage of the first day of legal non-medical marijuana sales in Colorado – which had Denver-area customers standing in long lines for hours waiting to buy legal pot – I could not help thinking about the changes I’ve seen in Mississippi.
When I was a kid in 1966, Mississippi was the last state in the union to repeal the federal Prohibition law. That was some 21 years after the sale of 3.2 percent beer was legalized in the state in 1945 by local option.
Those actions came years after Mississippi became the first state in the union to ratify the federal prohibition law. Yet all of my life in Mississippi, liquor and beer were always part of the state’s landscape. In most communities, the smallest children knew the open secrets of where the bootleggers lived and did business.
Local option elections were the most perverse of exercises. In those political melodramas, well-meaning church people would find themselves strange bedfellows with those who either bootlegged “bonded” whiskey and beer and/or those who made sour mash whiskey in backwoods stills.
One of the first news stories I covered as a young reporter was a trial in which a man arrested after a raid on his still – complete with lawmen with axes chopping the still to scrap iron and kindling wood – was convicted of possession of bonded whiskey in a farce of a legal proceeding.
Suffice to say that the Mississippi of my childhood was the “wettest” dry state one could imagine – and I was the son of two devout teetotaler Baptist parents. My father was a school principal and I saw the half-pint brown and clear liquor bottles under the bleachers at football and basketball games.
What’s that got to do with America’s newly legal illegal marijuana trade? Plenty.
After voters in the states of Colorado and Washington legalized the sale of marijuana in their states, the public debates there moved on next to the obvious conflicts between state laws legalizing pot sales and the prevailing federal laws that prohibit the sale of weed.
Despite the fact that possession, consumption and sale of marijuana remains a violation of federal law, the Obama administration isn’t willing to impede Colorado and Washington in their efforts to legalize and regulate the sale and use of recreational marijuana.
The marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington allow the recreational use of marijuana and require that the states set up a bureaucracy to license, regulate and tax those sales. It’s the taxing of the stuff that makes this interesting.
Marijuana users there are whining that they are being victimized by Colorado’s new marijuana tax. Proponents of marijuana legalization there say the new tax will drive Colorado’s portion of the nation’s estimated $3 billion marijuana market back underground. Taxes alone on the new legal pot sales are estimated at $67 million with $27.5 million of that figure earmarked for public schools.
Mississippians will see many similarities here. First and foremost, the laughable promise that “sin” taxes will a stable funding foundation for public education. That didn’t happen when Mississippi legalized whiskey sales or when the state embraced casino gaming – and it won’t happen in Colorado or Washington with the legalization of marijuana.
But as it was in Mississippi with casino gaming, the notion of luring out-of-state pot smokers across Colorado’s state lines to tax them legally was just too much to resist – especially when in this instance it’s for a product that is illegal under federal law.
The new marijuana sellers in Colorado sold $1 million worth of pot the first day – and the state got its cut. Will Mississippi ever legalize the sale of marijuana? Well, no time soon, I’d wager. After all, we’re still the gold buckle of the Bible Belt.
Then again, I remember as a kid thinking that liquor would never, ever be legal in Mississippi and it wasn’t. At least, it wasn’t until somebody sold the bill of goods that we could tax our way to prosperity by selling legal booze.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the official spokesman for Mississippi State University, but his opinions are his own unless otherwise noted.