Department of Revenue of Mont. v. Kurth Ranch, 511 U.S. 767, 23 (1994)

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Cite as: 511 U. S. 767 (1994)

Rehnquist, C. J., dissenting

A second "unusual feature" identified by the Court is that the tax is levied on drugs that the taxpayer neither owns or possesses at the time of taxation. But here, the Court exalts form over substance. Surely the Court is not suggesting that the State must permit the Kurths to keep the contraband in order to tax its possession. Cf. Constantine, supra, at 293 ("It would be strange if one carrying on a business the subject of an excise should be able to excuse himself from payment by the plea that in carrying on the business he was violating the law"). And although Montana's "Dangerous Drug Tax" is described as a tax on storage and possession, it is clear from the structure and purpose of the Act that it was passed for the legitimate purpose of raising revenue from the profitable underground drug business. 1987 Mont. Laws, ch. 563 (preamble).3

I do not dispute the Court's conclusion that an assessment which is labeled a "tax" could, under some conceivable cir-3 The preamble to the 1987 Montana Dangerous Drug Tax Act provides: "WHEREAS, dangerous drugs are commodities having considerable value, and the existence in Montana of a large and profitable dangerous drug industry and expensive trade in dangerous drugs is irrefutable; and

"WHEREAS, the state does not endorse the manufacturing of or trading in dangerous drugs and does not consider the use of such drugs to be acceptable, but it recognizes the economic impact upon the state of the manufacturing and selling of dangerous drugs; and

"WHEREAS, it is appropriate that some of the revenue generated by this tax be devoted to continuing investigative efforts directed toward the identification, arrest, and prosecution of individuals involved in conducting illegal continuing criminal enterprises that affect the distribution of dangerous drugs in Montana.

"THEREFORE, the Legislature of the State of Montana does not wish to give credence to the notion that the manufacturing, selling, and use of dangerous drugs is legal or otherwise proper, but finds it appropriate in view of the economic impact of such drugs to tax those who profit from drug-related offenses and to dispose of the tax proceeds through providing additional anticrime initiatives without burdening law abiding taxpayers."

Funds collected from the tax are earmarked for youth evaluations, chemical abuse assessment and aftercare, and juvenile detention facilities. Mont. Code Ann. 15-25-122 (1993).

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