Political Relativity and the Infinite Cynicism of Prohibitionists

The evil singularity called “government” warps space-time in such a way that those closest to it are exempt from law’s effects — not merely the moral law, mind you, but some aspects of the laws of physics, as well.

Last June, Boise, Idaho resident William James Esbensen, who operated a medical marijuana co-op in Ontario, Oregon, was found guilty of receiving “proceeds” from marijuana sales, under a law that was no longer in effect. During the trial, prosecutor Michael Dugan — acting on the assumption that time must yield to the imperatives of power, in this case exercised on behalf of marijuana prohibition — repeatedly insisted that it was impermissible, under Oregon law, to receive money in exchange for medicinal cannabis provided to an approved patient.

Esbensen is serving a two-year probation term, and paying tens of thousands of dollars in fines and fees, for doing something that would be indisputably legal under Measure 91, a flawed but significant marijuana decriminalization initiative approved by Oregon voters earlier this month. That law goes into effect next July. As someone who lives outside of the political singularity, Esbensen cannot benefit from the time-displacing properties of power. The same isn’t true of some municipal political elites, however.

Just prior to the election, several Oregon cities enacted marijuana sales taxes. Among the cities enacting such measures was Vale, the seat of Malheur County, where Esbensen was prosecuted. In fact (as I’ve previously noted) the Vale City Council includes two members of the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the 45th Parallel — including Deputy Brad Williams, who headed the investigation and slapped the handcuffs on Esbensen as he was led away to jail.

Beginning next July, when the legalization measure goes into effect, Williams and his comrades will receive proceeds from marijuana transactions — including those involving recreational use. This was the supposed offense for which Esbensen was convicted. Not only is this consummately hypocritical, it is illegal: Under the new law, only the state government is allowed to tax marijuana sales; city taxes are prohibited.

Ah, but this doesn’t account for the unique properties of “time” under the influence of political power.

The officials who enacted the city marijuana taxes claim that the new marijuana law would not forbid collection of “existing” taxes when the law takes effect next July. The whole point of prosecuting Esbensen and his colleagues was to demonstrate that it is illegal to sell marijuana, even to card-holding patients, under present Oregon law. Obviously, it isn’t possible to tax a form of commerce that remains illegal until next July.

But logic, like time itself, loses its objective meaning when acted upon by power: The people who enacted those measures seem to believe that their “existing” taxes on illicit commerce are validated by the fact that the commerce in question will be made legal in the near future. So political authority, like gravity, is a force that can move backwards across space-time. Or something.

Why do people who enact such policies — which are the obvious product of cynical greed and power-lust — even pretend to have any respect for the law? And why does the public at large indulge their arrogance and corruption, rather than introducing them to the decorative possibilities of tar and feathers?

(In the original version of this essay I mistakenly referred to the deputy Malheur County Prosecutor as William Dugan.)

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12:58 pm on November 17, 2014

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