TOM WARD - ‘Sin tax’ dependence by R.I. disappointing

TOM WARD - ‘Sin tax’ dependence by R.I. disappointing

I know this sounds a bit melodramatic, but it’s pretty heartbreaking to see society’s problems piling up, and governments going to any length to keep the money flowing, no matter what the harm to the greater good.

Consider “sin taxes.” When I was a kid, there were taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Gambling was limited to the parish bingo and your local bookie. Marijuana was bad for you.

Today, nobody will use the term “sin taxes” anymore because barely anything is considered “sinful” in the modern world. We still sin, but call them “personal choices” now. No judgmentalism allowed, lest you be labeled a hater.

But these taxes, the taxes that take advantage of our addictions or interests, are growing. Cigarette taxes used to be measured in pennies. Now it’s dollars. Alcohol, too. Bingo gave way to the lottery and casinos. Next, we will pay for legalized recreational marijuana in nearby Massachusetts. We will be in more danger from impaired people. Then there’s sports betting. In both cases – marijuana and sports betting – the saying goes “we do it anyway,” so why not have the state get its cut?

Oh, I don’t about because placing a sports bet (or any bet) when you haven’t yet bought your family groceries is wrong? Or how about when you show up to work stoned you’re endangering yourself and your fellow man? Do our representatives care about how all this might harm families? They don’t seem to. They need the money.

It’s all so disappointing.

Great job on the roads!

I can’t thank enough all of the volunteers – perhaps 150-200 in all – who rose to the challenge of working on a cold day Saturday to clean litter from our roadsides during this newspaper’s Yellow Bag Day in Cumberland and Lincoln. It was our most successful clean-up day ever!

There was help from many, many corners, but a special hat top goes to Boy Scout Troop 1 Diamond Hill. With Asst. Scoutmaster Steven Lane, he and others were able to form several teams – 40 persons in all – and spread them out to some of the most high profile, but dirtiest, parts of town. Those included near Diamond Hill Park, the I-295 interchanges at Mendon and Diamond Hill roads, and finally, when he had even more volunteers, Pine Swamp Road. I hope you were one of the many town residents who drove down Pine Swamp and noticed the dozens of bags filled with trash. The difference there was startling!

Then there was Councilor Ken Pichette’s teams in Manville. Along with volunteers from Navigant Credit Union and Troop 1 Manville, many spots were tidied up around the village.

So first, I thank all of those who participated, including the many Girl Scouts, Cumberland Hill and Berkeley-Ashton Scouts, the Cumberland Lions Club, and smaller groups of families and friends. Second, may I remind everyone to stop littering? The foam coffee cups and paper bags, the plastic shopping bags, and finally, the “nips” of booze and beer cans? Can we all make a little more effort to keep our trash in the car until we get home, and then junk it properly? Really, it’s not that hard! Please don’t be a slob!

And finally, a reminder: I choose to sponsor Yellow Bag Day a bit early, before the green shoots of grass pop up and hide the mess. Soon, it will be Earth Day. If you couldn’t help this past weekend, please look for one of the many Earth Day events in your community, and pitch in. A few include:

• April 21 – Town of Smithfield Earth Day Clean-up at Deerfield Park or the Great Pawtucket Clean Up. There’s also the Burrillville Lions Earth Day Cleanup.

• April 28 – North Smithfield hosts its 16th annual Clean & Green Day from Halliwell School.

• May 5 – There’s a Pride In Pawtucket cleanup, and Woonsocket’s Oak Grove neighborhood cleanup. There are others, too. Ask around, and join the fun!

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers


You write: "Or how about when you show up to work stoned you’re endangering yourself and your fellow man?" What a bizarre statement. Someone who shows up to work stoned will get fired, as will someone who shows up to work drunk (as they already do). That's NOT a reason to make alcohol illegal all over again, but again you ignore the example of Prohibition 1919-1933 which is indeed an exact analogy.

Enough hysterics, Mr. Ward. Again, you are simply incorrect!:

"The enactment of adult use marijuana regulatory laws is associated with reduced levels of property crimes and violent criminal activity, according to data published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

"Investigators from Italy's University of Bologna evaluated the association between the enactment of adult use regulations and county level crime rates in jurisdictions in close proximity to the Washington/Oregon border during the years 2010 to 2014. Researchers reported that crime rates fell significantly in counties in Washington, where voters enacted legalization in 2012, compared to proximate counties in Oregon - where voters rejected a similar initiative proposal that same year.

"Specifically, legalization was associated with a decline in thefts, property crimes, and rapes. Authors attributed the crime reduction to several potential factors, including less alcohol consumption and the reallocation of police resources.
They concluded: 'The concern that legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes may increase crime occupies a prominent position in the public debate about drugs. Our analysis suggests that such a concern is not justified.'

"Their conclusions are consistent with those of prior studies finding that marijuana regulatory schemes are associated with reduced criminality and a decrease in alcohol consumption."

Thank you for printing my little tirade. If I may explain some more:

“Sin” taxes are not merely to make money for the government. They are also designed to attack the black market in (fill in the blank: alcohol, gambling, marijuana, whatever). Unlike the 1920s we no longer have dangerous bootleg liquor, making people blind. Unlike the 1950s we no longer have much of a problem with Mafia-run gambling. Nowadays the states and the Indian tribes run gambling; it's not ideal, but it's far better than the previous system.

Mr. Ward, you seem to imply that cigarette taxes are now TOO high? If that's your position, I'm going to surprise you by agreeing with you (sort of!). I cheerfully admit to being an anti-tobacco zealot. Nobody hates cigarette smoking more than I do! I'm depressed to see Rhode Islanders at the bus stop who are addicted to that nasty habit, when they're obviously living in poverty. (And in wacky Rhode Island, poor people ride the bus for free, unlike literally everywhere else in the U.S., because... well, nobody has ever explained that to me in a way that makes any sense... but I digress.)

But even I have to admit there's a problem when RI and nearby states make cigarette taxes SO high, it creates a black market for smuggling North Carolina cigarettes here. That way the health problem remains, the secondhand smoke problem remains, the litter problem remains, and we don't get ANY of the tax money either! That's not good.

The idea with legal marijuana is not just to rake in tax money. It's also to kill off the black market which already exists and has thrived for decades, despite endless amounts of tax money fighting it. States that legalize marijuana try to find the sweet spot where the black market gets killed off almost entirely, while NOT making mj taxes so high they unintentionally keep the black market going. It's not an exact science, and it may take some tinkering, but we'll have 12 or 15 other states to learn from.

(Someone usually pops up here with the “federal laws” argument. But President Trump last week defended Colorado mj laws – contradicting his own AG Sessions – and there are bipartisan bills in Congress to end the Schedule 1 insanity, allow veterans access to medical mj, etc.)