When it comes to drug stamps, Rick Loomis is an expert.
Loomis, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., markets a collection of drug tax stamps from 15 states on his Flying Buffalo Inc. Web site.On the Web, he markets Idaho's harvested marijuana stamp. From a collector's standpoint, the green stamp is the best bargain Idaho offers.
"The `harvested marijuana' one is the best buy," Proctor said. It costs "$3.50 per gram, but there's a $150 minimum."
But from an aesthetic perspective, Idaho's tax stamps aren't particularly interesting. They merely consist of square single-colored images of the great seal of the state of Idaho superimposed with black lettering.
Loomis finds the Texas stamp the most interesting in his collection.
"It's shiny - silver and black - with a picture of the grim reaper holding his scythe, and it says, `Drugs lead to death and taxes,' " he said.
Nebraska's boasts the letters RIP with a skull and crossbones - a marijuana joint and syringe crossed where the bones would be.
Oklahoma's stamp is decorated with an outline of a marijuana leaf.
Purchasing one of Idaho's drug tax stamps can protect a dealer from an additional seven-year prison term. It also can eliminate a dealer's profits. Consequently, dealers rarely buy the stamps.
Few people ever do. So Loomis represents much of the market - such as it is - for Idaho drug stamps.
Although no one knows for certain who purchases the stamps or why, most authorities believe they are bought by collectors.
Since a 1989 state law authorized the drug stamps, the only Idaho stamp that has ever been purchased is the green harvested marijuana stamp - the type of stamp Loomis sells on the Internet.
A yellow stamp covers sales of marijuana that is grown - the tax is a whopping $775 per plant. Each plant must have a stamp affixed to it while it is growing.
Red and blue stamps for other controlled substances are much more expensive. Stamps to affix to packages of cocaine or methamphetamine, or other illegal substances, cost a dealer $200 per gram.
For dealers selling pills, there's a "dosage" category of stamp. A minimum stamp purchase is 50 dosage units for a cost of $2,000.
Tax stamps can be purchased at the Idaho Tax Commission office in Boise. A purchaser need not worry about his identity being disclosed. Names and addresses are not required on the order form.
Stamps can be purchased in person or through the mail and sent to any post office box or address the purchaser designates. Cash or certified funds are necessary, however. Clerks will not accept personal checks, nor can they be required to identify purchasers.
Does it work?
"People have bought them," said Rae Proctor, manager of the taxpayer's services bureau at the Idaho Tax Commission in Boise.
Since the law was enacted in 1989, the Tax Commission has filled 14 or 15 orders, Proctor said - adding a whopping $2,200 to Idaho's general fund.
"The point of the tax stamps," said S. Robinson, a detective with the Idaho Criminal Investigations Bureau in Twin Falls, "is to make the tax cancel out the street value."
Robinson said a single marijuana plant can generally yield two pounds, with a street value estimated at $2,000. But after paying the $775 for the yellow stamp, the dealer must then buy the green stamps to market the marijuana.
Factoring in the $3.50 per gram price for the green stamps, a dealer could spend more than $3,000 in taxes to sell $2,000 worth of marijuana.
Sometimes, dealers do try to buy the stamps. Kent Patterson, bureau chief of field services for the Tax Commission, told of one arrestee who purchased a tax stamp after he was arrested to try to avoid extra charges.
"Too late," Patterson said.
In the early days of the tax stamp, Patterson said, authorities would assess the amounts of drugs seized during an arrest, tally what appropriate tax stamps would have cost, then seize cash and assets belonging to the dealers.
"This isn't going on any longer. The Legislature decided not to fund it," Patterson said. "As citizens, we need to disrupt trafficking; this was a good tool. We collected in excess of $2 million."