Need to end Iowa’s excessive Drug Stamp tax.

Thanks to Lee Rood for her expose’ in The Des Moines Register about the financial devastation of an Iowa citizen that was caused by Iowa’s drug tax.  As Rood reported, Stephanie Hilgenberg was arrested in 2016 after police found about $5,000 worth of meth in her purse.  She was convicted and served time in prison.  She is now free and working to support heself and her two kids.  But she still owes the Iowa Department of Revenue about $150,000 in tax, penalty and interest!  She had failed to pay the “drug stamp tax” required in order to avoid the penalties and interest.
Iowa’s Constitution prohibits excessive fines, but this is technically a tax, not a fine.  Again as Rood reported, part of the strategy of the tax was to use as a negotiating lever to get small time dealers to give up their suppliers.  In our failed drug wars, the little guy is often sacrificed as a means to what drug warriors consider  more important ends.
Drug addiction is a terrible thing.  But we will be better served as a society by treating addiction under a medical model rather than a criminal model.  Education works better than punishment.  One step in the right direction would be to repeal the punitive stamp tax that is added to the injury caused by drug prohibition.  State legislatiors should take that up next session.
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Big marijuana bust in Iowa – Mayor found growing pot!

As the Des Moines Register reported yesterday, the Mayor of Jamaica, Iowa and her husband were busted two days earlier at about 4:20 p.m. (no joke) for growing 18 marijuana plants inside their home.   The various related charges include a Class “D” Felony for the manufacture and possession with intent to deliver less than 50 kilograms of marijuana.

It’s a shame that our laws in Iowa still make it a crime to do something that is peaceful, voluntary, and uses no force or fraud against others. Marijuana prohibition laws do little to make our state safer, and yet do great harm to people who are victimized by them.  In this case, if these two people are found guilty of the felony, they could be sentenced for up to 5 years in prison, be required to pay up to $7,500, lose their voting rights, be disqualified for military service or student loans, and more.  Compare that to the fact that nothing happens to a person in her home who is found to be brewing 5 gallons of beer – a standard home-brew batch – and possessing, say, 10 to 20 more gallons that were brewed earlier.

Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and yet today we see the same unintended consequences resulting from drug prohibition that we saw from alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s: violence, deaths from impure products, and the arrest and punishment of people who are otherwise honest and peaceful.  Make no mistake, the violence associated with the illegal drug trade is caused by prohibition laws.  If Walgreens moves into a community, CVS doesn’t send out a gang to kill them.  When drugs are delivered to a pharmacy, both parties don’t carry weapons to protect themselves.  Instead, they call the police if someone uses violence against them.  But you can’t can’t call the police for help if you’re dealing in illegal drugs.

We need to follow the trend in other states and around the world:  Legalize recreational marijuana and treat addiction using a medical model, just like alcohol.  Let your elected representatives know your feelings.  That is the way to get these unjust laws changed.

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2019/01/17/jamaica-mayor-ladonna-kennedy-pot-weed-gurthrie-county-crime-marijuana-search-ames-shooting-suspect/2606455002/

How to slow the growth of health care costs.

Thanks to Susan Voss for her thoughtful essay about the complexities of our health care system, and how difficult it is to reduce costs. (See link to Register essay below.)   I don’t claim to have “the answer”, but I do suggest that the following cost saving ideas be given serious consideration.

  • Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance should not be required to cover every new drug, product, or procedure that is approved by the FDA. Some are very high cost but provide only marginal improvement over alternatives that cost much less.  Also, at least some covered products and procedures would likely be considered not medically necessary by most people.
  • Consider shortening the amount of time that government grants a monopoly for patents.  Patents are not natural property: humans have copied one another since the beginning of time.  Our U.S. Constitution allows patents to be granted to encourage inventiveness, but there is no objective reason why a patent must be granted for 20 years. Why won’t five or ten years work?  Maybe the length of the patent should be based on the cost to develop the patented item and whether or not government funds were used to help develop the item.
  • Don’t require limits on out-of-pocket payments such as co-payments, especially for very high cost items.  A person should have “skin-in-the-game” if they expect their insurance to cover very high cost items.  Today, we see the opposite: drug companies offer to help pay people’s out-of-pocket costs so there won’t be so much political pressure on them to lower their prices.
  • Allow both pharmacies and individuals to purchase drugs from sellers in other countries that are “deemed” to have sufficient safety procedures in place.  If drug companies are free to charge lower prices in other countries, then pharmacies and individuals should be free to purchase the drugs from those other countries.
  • Allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate with drug companies on prices they pay for the drugs that are covered by the programs.  Right along with that, Medicare and Medicaid should be allowed to develop formularies (lists of drugs that are preferred over other therapeutically similar drugs), that give beneficiaries a financial incentive to use the preferred drugs and a penalty for using higher cost drugs.

Our health care wants are unlimited.  Our ability to pay is not.  We, as citizens, should not expect private insurance or our government health care programs to cover everything, regardless of cost.  We should expect our government to NOT do things that increase costs, or reduce our choices.

Link to Register essay:  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2018/09/19/dont-fooled-when-someone-claims-have-answer-soaring-health-care-costs/1355890002/

 

Is our government responsible for the opioid crisis?

The Des Moines Register recently reported that 36 Iowa counties have joined in a law suit against opioid makers.  (See link to Register article below.)  Two law firms are enlisting counties across the country to go after drug manufacturers and others for the costs of the opioid crisis.  There is no cost to the counties.  If successful, the “Lawyers will  be awarded a portion of the settlement, …”  (Interesting that the word “settlement” is used instead of “judgment”.)

What is often missing in much of the opioid crisis discussion is how our government’s policy of prohibition has made a bad situation even worse.  When a person becomes physically addicted to opioids, they will do almost anything to get the drugs they want.  If the drugs are not available legally, or if legal drugs cost too much, addicts will find illegal alternatives. According to the CDC, 60% of opioid deaths do not involve prescription opioids.  That is, in 60% of opioid deaths the person who died was using illegal opioids.  (See CDC reference below.)  A significant problem with illegal drugs is that is no way to assure the quality and potency of the drugs.  In the case of opioids, that leads to inadvertent over-doses because the illegal drug was much more powerful than thought.

If opioid addicts were able to readily get prescription methadone or other FDA approved opioids at reasonable costs, many deaths would be prevented.  That would also take the profit out of the illegal opioid drug trade.  If opioid addicts were treated under a medical model rather than a criminal model, it is likely that more opioid addicts would seek help to solve their addiction problem.  But as it is, under our drug war, prohibition policy, addicts have good reason to not seek help.

CDC reference: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2018/01/05/iowa-counties-file-lawsuits-against-opioid-manufacturers/1008522001/

Transgendered okay in the military, but sex change surgery should not be paid for by taxpayers.

A transgendered person should be eligible to serve in the military, just like just like every other man or women, and just like every other gay or straight person.  If they are qualified to do the job, then government should not discriminate against them based on their transgendered status.  That does not mean the military or taxpayers should foot the bill for sex change operations.  Just as being transgendered is not a disease, surgery to to change a person’s sex is not a medical necessity.  Transgendered folks will can be completely healthy without a sex change operation.  So, sex change operations should be considered elective, and not be required to be covered by any insurance plan, including that of the military.

West Des Moines wrong on smoking and vaping ban.

It is a proper role of government to regulate activities on public property. But, it is unfair that West Des Moines has banned both smoking and vaping in their public parks.  There may be no safe level of second hand smoke or nicotine vaper, but there is also no safe level of car exhaust, or camp fire or barbecue grill fumes, but we don’t ban them.  Life is not risk free.  And really, isn’t it pretty easy for anyone who happens to be down wind from a smoker or vaper to avoid the situation by simply moving a little bit?  Smokers and vapers pay taxes that fund public parks just like everyone else.  This is simply a case of an intolerant majority oppressing an out-of-favor minority.  I hope that other municipalities will not follow suit.  p.s. – I don’t smoke or vape.

Why do taxpayers pay for bird flu?

According to a report in the Des Moines Register today, 10/26/2015, the last bird flu outbreak cost taxpayers $1 billion.  (See link below.)   The payments to chicken and egg producers included the cost of the birds that were destroyed, the cleanup, and “indemnity payments” to cover their losses.
I understand that we citizens, through our government, need to prohibit diseased meat from entering our food supply.  I don’t understand why producers are not insured against such a foreseeable risk.  If we have a law that prohibits diseased meat from being sold, and if we do not provide producers with a taxpayer paid bailout, then producers will do one (or more) of three things:  they will reduce their own risk by splitting large flocks into smaller, geographically separated flocks; they will buy insurance to cover the risk; or they will take the financial risk of loss upon themselves.
To the extent that taxpayers bail out producers, they will not take the necessary steps to manage and reduce their own risks.  We need to give notice to producers that they will not be bailed out in the future.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2015/10/25/bird-flu-when-return/74334080/