Side Note

Drug tax stamps are a thing

But the only people buying them aren’t drug dealers, they’re stamp collectors.

Tuesday, April 17, is tax day, which is the worst day. It sucks so much that it might make you be like, “Fuck this, I am going to become a drug dealer.” But because in many states, drug dealers have to pay taxes, too — or at least, the fact that drug dealers don’t pay taxes is one of the trickier ways that state governments punish those operating in the black market.

If this all seems sketchy, that’s because it is. In a report discussing a (failed) 2008 proposal by New York’s then-governor Elliot Spitzer to institute a drug tax stamp program in his state, the New York Times noted that “almost no dealers” actually buy the stamps, adding, “the vast majority of revenues from the tax are collected after law enforcement officials seize the drugs.” The true purpose of these laws, they explained, are to “help the authorities keep seized drug money even when a suspect accused of dealing walks free.”

According to the legalization advocacy group NORML, 18 states and also Guam currently have marijuana tax stamp programs, but as the Times observed in 2008, the vast majority of the stamps are purchased by collectors — after all, the idea of paying the state government for tax stamps to put on your illegal drugs seems like the textbook definition of entrapment, even if states claim the process of buying the stamps is itself anonymous.

The aptly named has a treasure trove of old drug tax stamps, some of which are kind of cute — Arizona has a cactus on theirs — while others, such as the ones issued by Illinois and Massachusetts prominently feature marijuana plants, which kind of makes them seem like a cool decoration for your bag of weed. The award for “Most Unnecessarily Metal Drug Stamp,” however, goes to Nebraska, which features a skull and crossbones — made up of a joint and syringe — in front of a tombstone. And then there’s the two stamps issued by Texas, which have to be seen to be believed:

According to, the 500 gram stamp’s $100,000 face value (it’s the one with the skull on it) gave it the “highest value on any federal or state stamp, tax or otherwise.” Texas repealed its illegal drug stamp program in 2016, which while a bummer for all the stamp collectors out there, is probably for the best.