The IRS is in hot water over recent revelations that it cherry-picked organizations it perceived to be critical of the government for tax scrutiny. Groups with the words “tea party” and “patriot” in their materials have received increased attention. But it turns out that nonprofits working to overturn the feds’ anti-pot policies also got IRS magnifying glass.
Marijuana policy groups have been subjected to grueling audits and forced to battle for tax-exempt status. One group, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), was audited not once, but twice, in 2000 and again in 2006. On both occasions, the IRS determined that MPP was in full compliance with federal tax code and given a clean bill of health. Another pot policy project, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), spent several months fighting for their tax-exempt nonprofit status. In a letter from the IRS, SAFER was accused of organizing "festivals and protests that are not always peaceful.” The IRS provided printouts of online news stories in which commenters mentioned smoking pot, and web pages about completely peaceful cannabis festivals and events. But none of the cited events were organized by SAFER.
The Washington Post published documents from a briefing IRS staffers held with senior IRS official Lois G. Lerner, during which they described giving special attention to instances where “statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.” The agency also decided to target “organizations involved in… social economic reform movement,” according to a report that leaked in May.
These revelations are beyond troubling. The persecution of policy reform organizations is not only unethical and unconstitutional – it violates every notion of what it means to be an American. Now that the IRS’s shady ways have been exposed, maybe the issue of genuine national tax reform can be addressed.