Back in 2005, Tennessee passed a farcical “crack tax” on controlled substances. It was similar to the Marijuana Stamp Act that the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional 40 years ago in that in order to comply with the law, you’d need to admit you were breaking other laws.
The Tennessee Supreme Court struck the law down in 2009. Technically, that meant that the people who had already paid the tax—either because they’d been assessed the tax after getting busted with drugs (in which case the state helped them pay it by taking their property), or because they were dumb enough to pay up voluntarily—were due a refund.
The problem is that Tennessee has a three-year statute of limitations on claims made against the state’s Department of Revenue. Now, common sense would suggest that the clock should start ticking on that deadline once the law has been declared constitutional. Right?
Not according to the Tennessee Court of Appeals (PDF). Some poor schmuck who paid $21,000 in crack taxes in 2005 won’t be getting any of his money ba , because, the court says, the statute of limitations ran out on his claim in 2008, even though the law was still enforced at the time.
Which means that anyone who didn’t file a constitutional challenge to the law in the first two years it was enacted is barred from recovering the money the state unconstitutionally confiscated from them. Conveniently, this means the state will get to keep just about all of the $3 million it collected in its first two years of enforcing a tax that just about everyone knew was unconstitutional before it was passed.
(Hat tip to Drew Johnson, by way of Brett Carter.)