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License to Print Money? Researching Marijuana Taxation Law, History, and Practice


A recent bill in the Oregon Legislature, 2009 HB 3274 (HTML or PDF), and a question from a patron, started me thinking about what my research strategy might look like if I had to draft legislation on this subject or if I had to argue for or against taxing marijuana sales (medical marijuana or other uses, if any).

(There was also this recent New York Times story: Struggling States Look to Unorthodox Taxes, by Jesse McKinley, February 28, 2009.)

And, I attended an interesting program recently on evidence-based research (origins in evidence-based medicine), which gave me even more ideas on sources one would need to consult to write the definitive guide to marijuana research, or even just marijuana taxation.

But, I’m not trying to write that tome, and this blog post is quite long enough as it is, so I will post what I’ve come up with so far and leave the tomes, and full pathfinders, for another post or for someone who won’t get bored with it by day 2.

We’ll start with the bill. Here’s a summary of Oregon 2009 HB 3274:

Directs Department of Human Services to establish and operate marijuana production facility and distribute marijuana to pharmacies for dispensing to medical marijuana cardholders and designated primary caregivers. Allows pharmacists to dispense marijuana to medical marijuana cardholders and designated primary caregivers. Disallows private marijuana grow sites. Imposes tax of $98 per ounce on marijuana dispensed by pharmacies. Establishes Marijuana Production Facility Fund. Continuously appropriates moneys from fund to department for operation of production facility.” (link to full text of the bill)

As of today, here is the history (update from House Measure History):

3-11(H) First reading. Referred to Speaker’s desk.
3-12 Referred to Business and Labor with subsequent referral to Revenue.
3-18 Public Hearing held

(Note: After the 3/18 hearing, news sources reported that the taxation issue is off the table.)

Onward to the heart of the matter: Prepare yourself for a legal research adventure (only a law librarian could love?)!:

In general, always start any legal research by checking to see someone has already done any of the work for you. This could mean different starting places for different types of questions. For this particular research project, you’ll first look to see if anyone has already written a research guide on the subject of marijuana taxation, and then you’ll move on to building your own.

1) Check for law library guides and pathfinders on the subject: e.g. this one from Cal State, Fullerton. Google will be useful, but won’t reach the cracks and crevices of the deep or invisible web, so read on.

2) Legal periodical indexes: ILP and LRI (most academic law libraries subscribe to these databases and some large public law libraries do too). This is another way to find out if anyone has already researched and written on your topic. Note how far back in time the index goes. And marijuana taxation debates have been around for a long time. If your database goes back only to, e.g. 1985, you’ll need to keep time-traveling to reach full runs of periodicals.

3) HeinOnline has full runs of law journals (most academic law libraries subscribe to this database, and some public libraries do, though few with remote access, except for WCCLS, which does offer free, remote, public access for its library card holders).

4) Other subscription databases: including general newspaper and magazine indexes often available from public libraries (e.g. this gateway at WCCLS) and legal research databases (see this guide, for example). Marijuana taxation articles may show up not just in the legal literature, but also in the popular press, in medical journals, public policy ones, etc.

5) Check Congressional and other government documents indexes, databases, and journals, too, e.g. CQ, Congressional Index, etc. (Visit a Government Depository Library website to see what these resources might include, e.g. here or here or here).

6) Don’t forget CRS reports: Members of Congress have still not made this database of reports public, but librarians and researchers have been trying to make up for this. See, e.g. BoleyBlogs. You can Google for CRS reports too.

7) JSTOR : Most academic libraries have JSTOR access and so do some large public library systems, e.g. Multnomah County and Google Scholar will pick up documents in JSTOR.

8) Survey of State Laws (edited by Richard Leiter): always take 3 minutes to check to see if this book includes the subject you are researching. (Most academic law libraries will have this in print or subscribe to the database and some large public libraries and public law libraries will have this too.)

9) And then there is the “Subject Compilation of State Laws.” (Here’s a blog post from KCLL about it.) (Most academic law libraries will have this in print or subscribe to the database and some large public libraries and public law libraries will have this too.)

10) Dissertations: These used to be a LOT harder to check than they are now (so don’t complain), but it’s still rather laborious research. Here’s one guide to dissertation research, and another, and another.

11) Organizations and associations also publish research, though sometimes only at their own websites: Use Associations Unlimited (at most academic and large public libraries) to find organizations that might have published on the subject of taxation of marijuana.

Tired yet? Wait, there’s more! We haven’t even gotten to your own original research. In order to do that efficiently, if not quickly, try these steps:

12) Check for any alternate spellings, nicknames, or slang that you may not have found while searching the resources above. You can’t do a full search without using the right “keywords.” You can Google “marijuana slang” for more ideas than you could possibly need. But don’t forget you may need to try different forms of the word tax, taxation, taxes, levies, etc. Not all indexes or search engines have word truncation and wildcard options.

13) Research laws (bet you thought I’d never get to “the law”): States, Federal, uniform, model, foreign, international, histories, etc.: Visiting a law library may be the best way to find all these resources (and some guidance on how to search), but you can do some of this searching on your own online (see OLR blog sidebars for links to low-cost and free legal research databases). And, keep taking those good notes!

You will probably have to visit a law library to make sure you haven’t missed a database, especially if you aren’t a student or law school faculty member with easy access to all the databases. But you will also start looping back on your previous research, which can be sign you’re covering everything, or a sign that you’re not reaching out far enough.

14) Google, Google Books, Google Scholar, Google Blogs, Google News, Google Images, etc.

15) Don’t forget Dogpile or other search engines.

16) If you are a glutton for punishment or want to become a Super Searcher, start here, with Bates Information Service, for excellent monthly Tips and some more online search strategies.

17) I’ve left off some other important fields of research where you will find useful indexes and databases: medicine, social sciences, psychiatry, criminal justice, etc.

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