Guest op-ed: “How many American lives could we save, if we simply started treating the marijuana industry and canna-businesses fairly?”

By Matt Gaetz, Guest Commentary

In 1981, a Tax Court judge ruled on tax deductions taken by Mr. Jeff Edmonson, a man with a unique business: the large-scale distribution of drugs. For the tax year in question, he had sold over a million tablets of amphetamine, a hundred pounds of marijuana, and nearly a pound of cocaine.

Mr. Edmonson was clearly busy — but not too busy to do his paperwork. His tax return deducted business costs, such as miles he had driven for work, and office equipment he purchased. The Tax Court rules on taxes, not the legality of a person’s profession — so many of his deductions were ruled perfectly acceptable.

Since this was 1981 — the zenith of bad hair and the War on Drugs — the verdict gave drug hawks a collective case of indigestion. While Congress scrambled to close tax loopholes to offset the costs of tax reform, they decided to kill two birds with one stone. Tax legislation passed in 1982 included section 280E, prohibiting traffickers of Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 drugs from deducting business expenses.

At the time, this small was mostly a symbolic victory. Few lawmakers thought it would have long-term ramifications. How could lawmakers have predicted how much the marijuana world would change in 35 years?

Instead of waiting for Mr. Edmonson to cruise down the block, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia now have laws allowing some form of marijuana use. Fourteen states have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana.

The legal cannabis industry, worth approximately $7 billion in 2016, employs tens of thousands of people, and some analysts believe the industry will be worth over $50 billion within a decade. As soon as 2020, the cannabis industry is likely to generate more new jobs than the entire manufacturing industry. This explosive business growth is astonishing, especially considering the burden 280E puts on canna-businesses.

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