Paul Grad for Oregon Governor: Should Drugs Be Taxed?

Should drugs be taxed? The Libertarian would almost certainly say “no”. And we agree. Taking drugs is a vice, but in a Libertarian society, a vice is not a crime. So it certainly should not be taxed.

However, when we come to a societies like England, Canada, and now America, where there is a government-run public medical service which the taxpayer is forced to fund, then, it seems to me, we could legitimately tax drugs to conduct that service, to offset those taxes paid under coercion by taxpayers who do not use drugs, or who pay their own medical bills.

So, if you have a socialist medical-care system, you could justly impose a tax on deleterious drug-use, that tax going directly to pay for the government-run or funded medical care.

But if you had a completely free-market system, with well-run hospitals that charged what the consumer thought were reasonable prices, and gave flawless service for that price, and with the destitute being aided by voluntary charity organizations that would come into being in a prosperous society where the affluent knew that the moral responsibility for aiding the destitute was squarely on their own shoulders, and not passed on to a government agency to deal with in their dehumanized, bureaucratic way — if you had such a system, you’d have a real solution to the vast medical-care dilemma that is descending on America, because politicians have completely neglected the nutritional health of the people.

In my view, any drug tax should commence at caffeine, but I would set that tax level at one cent per pound, which wouldn’t even cover the cost of collection, so the tax on coffee, tea, yerba mate, and other caffeine-containing plants would be a de facto nil. Then, as you moved up the ugly scale — the opiates, crack cocaine, powdered cocaine, benzedrine, dexedrine, methadrine, ice, ecstacy, qualudes, barbituates, alcohol, and — the most addictive drug on the Benowitz scale of addiction — tobacco-nicotine, you’d increase the tax amounts. All these killer drugs should be taxed if we decriminalize drugs while simultaneously we have a national government medical system. Probably all the taxes collected should go to pay the wages of only doctors, nurses, and workers, not administrators.

So whether you tax all drugs, or some drugs, or no drugs, really depends on how entrenched or absent government is in the medical care economy. In a socialist society, drugs would be taxed; in a Libertarian classical-Liberal society, they would not be.

Paul Grad,


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