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California auctions bongs from pot shops owing millions in taxes

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In a recent development, the state of California revealed that 10 Los Angeles marijuana dispensaries have accumulated a staggering $14.4 million in unpaid taxes. In an attempt to recover these fees, the state resorted to holding a public auction to sell off property seized from these businesses.

However, the outcome of the auction was far from what was expected, with officials reporting that only $2,075 was generated from the sale. This disappointing result sheds light on the challenges that authorities face in cracking down on tax evasion in the cannabis industry.

Out of the 10 dispensaries involved, nine were found to be operating illegally, while one was a legally established business that had fallen behind on tax payments, as stated by the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration in a news release detailing the auction proceedings. This marked a significant milestone for the agency, as it was the first time they had resorted to auctioning off seized property from law enforcement raids to recoup unpaid taxes.

Collaborating with the California Highway Patrol, the agency put up items such as glass pipes, bongs, TVs, furniture, and various office supplies for sale at the auction held in Los Angeles on Feb. 16. The seized goods were divided into 10 lots, all of which were successfully sold off, with many items being listed in “as is” condition.

Nick Maduros, the director of the tax and fee agency, highlighted the significance of seizing and auctioning property from non-compliant cannabis businesses as a means to reclaim taxes owed to the state. This proactive approach is aimed at deterring illicit cannabis activities and creating a level playing field for legitimate businesses that diligently fulfill their tax obligations.

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According to the agency, the year 2022 saw a substantial amount of $90 million worth of products and cash seized from businesses during 2,200 inspections conducted throughout the state. As part of the regulatory framework, legal cannabis establishments in California are mandated to levy a 15% excise tax on their sales to customers.

For the year 2023, California reported generating over $621 million in excise tax revenue and more than $461 million in sales tax revenue, underscoring the significant financial contributions made by the cannabis industry to the state’s economy. The data is readily available on the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration website, providing transparency and insight into the revenue generated through cannabis taxation.

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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