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If You Have Illegal Drugs In Nebraska, Better Get A Stamp

An obscure law from 1991 allows the state to require drug dealers to buy stamps for their illegal drugs or face hefty additional fines upon arrest.

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By John Lavitt

05/06/14

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In the war on illegal drugs, Nebraska's $100 drug tax stamp provides a perfect balance between creativity and revenue. Following the passage of a tax on illegal drugs, Nebraska began issuing the decorative stamps in 1991. Bought at Nebraska Department of Revenue offices, the drug stamp tax law provides the state with a legal way to collect money on drug deals. If you possess illegal drugs, Nebraska law requires that you have a stamp on those drugs.

A drug stamp does not legalize the product, but a person can be charged for not having one. In other words, you can still be busted, but if you are busted without a drug stamp on your drugs, the penalties you will face are much higher: $100 per ounce of marijuana, $150 per gram of cocaine, and $500 for every 50 doses of a controlled substance not traditionally sold by weight like LSD or prescription painkillers.

Since first being offered, only 625 stamps have actually been sold for a total revenue of $10,220. Most of the stamps have been bought by collectors as opposed to drug dealers trying to walk the straight and narrow. Still, it’s not a bad idea for drug dealers since no name is required for drug tax stamp purchases. After all, wouldn’t buying a drug stamp be a form of self-incrimination?

Most drug dealers only find out about Nebraska's punitive drug stamp tax after being caught and charged with a crime. The lack of a stamp means both the original drug tax and an additional fine must be paid. Drug dealers also face a potential Class IV felony, which carries up to five years in prison and a separate $10,000 criminal fine. The law was not designed for drug dealers to really buy the stamps, but as a way to add an extra financial penalty for being caught.

“It's just an exorbitant amount of money on something that's passing along through the state on the Interstate,” said Omaha-based criminal defense attorney Bill O’Brien. “It's not just (taxation) without representation, but without any notice.”

“Some people want to challenge it,” O’Brien continued. “They say it's unconstitutional. Some people think they can't possibly get away with that.”

According to State Tax Commissioner Kim Conroy, Nebraska has successfully collected $544,588 from evaders of the drug tax since 1991. Five percent of the tax proceeds go toward administration and enforcement of the tax. Half the remaining money is devoted to law enforcement and drug education programs in the county where the drugs were found, and the rest goes to the Nebraska State Patrol.

But Conroy has also said the program has moved away from being just a punishment for drug dealers into the realm of obscure curiosity with art collectors. 

“They're almost like a little piece of artwork to some people,” she said.

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