There are few tax increases that are more of a political no-brainer than that proposed in HB 1789, a bill that would impose a 25 percent excise tax on the gross dispensary sales of medical marijuana. With the passage of I-502 it makes zero sense to create two parallel systems of legal marijuana retail, one taxed and regulated and the other not. If anything, the bill doesn't go far enough.
Now, I know there are some objections from within the medical marijuana industry. Of course there are. But I'm not going there in this post. This isn't a post about policy.
My point is that with the passage of I-502, and in the midst of a desperate revenue shortfall—and considering the traditional partisan divide on marijuana legalization—imposing a tax on medical marijuana should be a political no-brainer. And as such, HB 1789 represents an interesting test of Republican principles.
A sizable chunk of the state House and Senate Republican caucuses have signed on to Grover Norquist's pledge to oppose all tax increases at any time for any reason no matter the circumstances. Many other Republican legislators have vocally embraced this anti-tax orthodoxy without actually signing the pledge. But at the same time it is also Republican orthodoxy to oppose the liberalization of our marijuana laws.
So HB 1789 poses a political dilemma for Republicans, as there is zero argument they can make for opposing this tax other than it is one. So, do they stand by their no-new-tax pledge in defiance of all (Republican) logic and reason, thus proving their single-issue ideological rigidity? Or do they vote to approve this reefer tax (a tax that, if it already existed, their caucus would never, ever vote to repeal), thus proving that their absolute opposition to all tax increases isn't really absolute at all?
Think of HB 1789 as a sociological experiment. As sometimes happens in politics, lawmakers are faced with a bill in which their values conflict. How Republicans navigate this paradox will be a window into their psyches, and a demonstration of their willingness to govern.
My guess is that the majority of Republicans will oppose HB 1789 simply because it is a tax, and modern Republicanism is little more than an economic religion that abdicates reason in the name of faith. You might as well ask them to vote to proclaim Satan as their savior. But I sure do hope HB 1789 gets to the floor so we get to find out.