State agency wages war on Peace Pipe
For the past four years, Jarred Boyes has been operating Peace Pipe Tobacco Company, supporting his family with the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Last month, that all came to a screeching halt.
A letter from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) advised Boyes that Peace Pipe is in violation of cigarette tax laws.
Boyes, an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation, sells King Mountain products, which are made on the reservation. His store resides outside reservation boundaries. The WSLCB claims that land is within its jurisdiction, and because the cigarettes Boyes sells don’t have Washington State tax stamps, they are considered contraband.
The letter, written by Captain Lisa Reinke of the WSLCB’s Enforcement Tobacco Tax Unit, gives Boyes until Jan. 30 to bring his business into compliance.
“They’re telling me if I stay open after the 31st, they’re going to raid my shop, take my stuff and press criminal charges against me.”
When asked why Peace Pipe wasn’t flagged earlier, WSLCB Communications Director Brian Smith said they simply had simply escaped the agency’s notice. “Since they are operating as an unlicensed entity they would not have come across our radar until someone filed a complaint, which is what happened here, that complaint is then investigated by our Tobacco Tax Unit.”
But Boyes believes he had come across their radar.
“Prior to opening almost four years ago, I contacted the state to make sure selling King Mountain products would be completely legal. The last thing I wanted was to get in a lawsuit for selling contraband. So I contacted them, and I received a letter from the Department of Revenue.” That letter exempts cigarettes “manufactured and sold by Yakamas within the Yakama Nation” from Washington taxes.
With the understanding that his business was on an allotment of tribal trust land—outside the reservation but subject to the same laws—Boyes read that letter as putting him in the clear.
He also believes WSLCB shared that understanding.
“I was visited by them probably six to eight months after I opened. A competitor complained because I was undercutting their prices. [WSLCB] came to my business, found out it was tribal, and said, ‘OK, we don’t have anything to say here.’ And they left.”
Boyes doesn’t have a record of that visit. Either way, it’s hard to fathom how someone actively consulting the state on the legality of his business could still manage to sell contraband—without his own knowledge or the state’s—for four years.
“It just doesn’t make any sense at all. My personal feeling is that they found some loophole that makes them think they have control over me criminally. They’re going after the big boys and I’m stuck in the middle. They’re goal is to get us shut down, and we might be a stepping stone to make a bigger case on something.”
Whatever the reason, Boyes believes the WSLCB is mistaken in its claim.
“They don’t have the jurisdiction they think they have. Not on my property.”
Boyes claims the parcel he leases is a special kind of tribal trust land: an “in-lieu” site, so called because it was given in lieu of tribal properties flooded by the construction of dams along the Columbia River. There are precedents in which state agencies were told they did not have jurisdiction over such sites.
The trouble for Boyes may be finding someone to argue his case.
“I’m trying not to lose my house, let alone [afford] a lawyer.” Boyes has reached out to a few advocacy groups, but time and money are running out. The WSLCB’s letter couldn’t have come at a worse time for Boyes and his family. Two years ago, they lost their house in an electrical fire. They put up a new house on the same spot, but have been struggling to keep up on payments. Added to recent health issues that have limited both Boyes’s and his wife’s ability to work, Peace Pipe’s closure may cause them to lose their home a second time.
“My wife’s ready to start packing. She doesn’t think there’s any way we’re going to do it. With my business shutting down and her only working part time, it’s not looking very good.”
Boyes has three options before him: fight the case, which it increasingly seems he will have to do on his own; bring his business into compliance; or shut down and find another way to put bread on the table. So far, the WSLCB has been oddly silent about particulars for the second choice. To Boyes, the message seems to be ‘Shut down or else.’
“I talked to Lisa Reinke. I said, ‘This is how I take care of my family.’ She they would raid my property and take my stuff. I said, ‘You can take all the stuff I have—it’s a whole bookshelf full.’ She said, ‘I’m sorry.’”