Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, is among the most powerful figures in conservative politics thanks to his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" -- a promise to oppose tax-rate hikes for individuals or businesses that 41 U.S. Senators and 238 U.S. Representatives have signed.
In recent weeks, Norquist made news by saying a vote for pot taxes wouldn't necessarily violate the pledge. But that doesn't mean he's in favor of Colorado's Proposition AA. Today, he confirms that he opposes it.
"If I was a citizen of Colorado, I would vote against proposition AA, as a 25 percent tax is too high," Norquist writes in an e-mail to Westword this morning. "Send this back to the state legislature."
The spur for this statement was an October 31 Westword post headlined "Marijuana: Yes on Proposition AA tax proposal winning handily in polls." In the item, Joe Megyesy, spokesman for the organization backing Prop AA, mentioned Norquist, as noted in the following paragraph:
He adds that national activist Grover Norquist's recent statement that voting to raise taxes on pot wouldn't violate a no-tax pledge, since prohibition is the ultimate tax, could reassure some conservative voters who are on the fence.
The link above connects to a Forbes article, which references comments Norquist made to the National Journal. Here's an excerpt:
"When you legalize something and more people do more of it and the government gets more revenue because there's more of it...that's not a tax increase," he explains. "The tax goes from 100 percent, meaning it's illegal, to whatever the tax is."
At 25 percent on three levels of sales (on top of the state's standard sales tax of 8.75 percent), Colorado's marijuana tax is significantly higher than its levy on alcohol, but it's all the "same zone," says Norquist.
The last part of the statement certainly implies that Norquist specifically approves of Proposition AA -- unlike Amendment 66, the Colorado education proposal that he's directly attacked in tweets like this one from yesterday:
ATR urges Colorado voters to reject Amendment 66, the massive 27% income tax hike on the ballot tomorrow: http://t.co/PgYP42ou4E
— Grover Norquist (@GroverNorquist) November 5, 2013
Nonetheless, Larisa Bolivar, executive director of the No on Proposition AA campaign, decided to challenge Norquist on his reported stance. We've included her entire note to him below, but at one point, she wrote, "Since you are who I and a lot of Republicans go to for tax related issues because your fame connotes authority on the issue, I am tremendously disappointed by your decision to support the highest tax on a retail item in Colorado history based on 'Reefer Madness.'"
A short time later, Norquist replied to Bolivar with this note: "I have certainly not endorsed any tax hike on marijuana. I answered the question --does it violate the pledge to legalize marijuana and have an excise tax. I sent out a tweet reiterating this. I would recommend no tax higher than the sales tax of the state." Continue for more about Grover Norquist's position on Proposition AA. Early this morning, the No on Proposition AA campaign sent out a press release mentioning Norquist's views and castigating Westword and Forbes for inaccurate reporting. Afterward, responding to a Westword query, No on Proposition AA spokesman Miguel Lopez shared the e-mail exchange between Bolivar and Norquist, which we set out to confirm via an e-mail and tweet to Norquist. He quickly responded to both. Here's the tweet:
— Grover Norquist (@GroverNorquist) November 5, 2013
Norquist reiterated this view in the e-mail. In addition to the comments quoted at the top of page one, he added the following:
"High taxes approximate prohibition and bring all the same challenges that prohibition did. The high excise tax on alcohol is the reason we still have bootlegging.
"I have been quoted that extending existing taxes to a newly legalized product is not a violation of the pledge. That is certainly correct. Certainly imposing the regular state sales tax rate would not violate the taxpayer protection pledge."
In other words, Norquist thinks the 10 percent special sales tax on marijuana that will be imposed if Proposition AA passes is excessive, particularly since this amount (which can be raised to 15 percent without another electoral vote) would be in addition to standard state sales tax and assorted local taxes.
Here's Bolivar's original note to Norquist:
Dear Mr. Norquist --
I just read an article in Forbe's magazine discussing marijuana taxes where you mention that voting for marijuana taxes does not violate your tax pledge. Technically no, but it does go against the philosophy of excessive taxation, which is a conservative issue. I was counting on you to think outside of the box and not fall into the "Reefer Madness" mentality of taxing the heck out of marijuana to create big government in order to legitimize marijuana, when in reality, marijuana could create a boon economy if people just stop fearing legalization.
Marijuana prohibition began with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, so these prohibitive taxes being proposed in Colorado are another way of continuing prohibition. Since you are who I and a lot of Republicans go to for tax related issues because your fame connotes authority on the issue, I am tremendously disappointed by your decision to support the highest tax on a retail item in Colorado history based on "Reefer Madness."
I have no choice to bring this issue to the attention of the Libertarian Party members and Republican Party members who count on you to be our voice against all unfair taxes. I will be informing them that based on your alliances with Democrats on marijuana tax issues that you have obviously apostatized from the Republican Party. I don't have the money to give myself much importance to you, but I do have access to tens of thousands of voters here in Colorado and have even been touted by some as a potential Libertarian Party candidate.
I am more disappointed than I imagined I would be. It is akin to finding out that Santa Claus does not exist.
Hoping you keep integrity to all excessive tax issues,
Larisa Bolivar, Executive Director No on Proposition AA
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Yes on Proposition AA tax proposal winning handily in polls."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.