Stephen Conlin paid $7,000 in state taxes on his marijuana stash in 2011, convinced he’d found a legal loophole that would allow him to possess and sell the drugs from his St. Charles barber shop, “The BUZZ.” In January 2012, police raided the shop and found 1.8 pounds of marijuana, along with packaging materials labeled, “Minnesota’s First Lawful Marijuana Mercantile.”
Last week, a Winona County jury convicted Conlin of fifth-degree possession of marijuana with intent to sell the drug, along with obstructing the legal process with force, a conviction that shows that taxes paid for pot stashes do not negate other laws that prohibit possession and sale of the drug.
In earlier court appearances, Conlin, along with employees of the Minnesota Department of Revenue, testified that Conlin had paid taxes on his marijuana following a 2011 conversation with Gov. Mark Dayton. According to Conlin, he approached Dayton during a visit to Winona and told the governor that the state was missing out on millions in grass tax revenue. According to Conlin and Department of Revenue officials, Dayton and his staff members assisted Conlin in contacting the people at the Capitol who collect such special taxes.
Conlin paid $3.50 per “marijuana tax stamp,” the tax defined in state statute for each gram of marijuana. He supplied the Department of Revenue with enough tax money for 2,049 grams of the drug, and then his business was raided by police on January 25, 2012.
According to testimony Conlin provided during an earlier court appearance, he decided to purchase the tax stamps and sell the drugs because he felt that selling pot to adults only, in a responsible way, would help put dealers who sell to kids in schools out of business. “No matter what you do to me, the market won’t go away,” he told Judge Jeffrey Thompson during the 2012 hearing. Had he not been raided by police, Conlin told Judge Thompson, he would have paid $220,000 in taxes for his pot business that year.
Following a three-day jury trial, Conlin was convicted, with a sentencing hearing scheduled for October 16. According to a news release from the Winona County Attorney’s office, “Failing to pay taxes on the marijuana and selling marijuana are two separate crimes, however, and complying with taxation laws on illegal activities does not make the illegal activity lawful.”
Conlin remains released after posting $25,000 conditional bail until his sentencing next month.