Auditor General: Taxing marijuana could yield $200M for state
March 6, 2017 3:06 PM
“I wasn’t necessarily convinced Pennsylvania should be the first [to regulate and tax marijuana], but now that we have actual results and data from other states, the evidence is clear that this can be both good socially and fiscally,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said.
The state's auditor general says Pennsylvania can gain an estimated $200 million by allowing and taxing recreational use of marijuana.
By Karen Langley / Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, says he knows where the state could find money to help close its budget gap: by allowing the recreational use of marijuana and taxing it.
At a Capitol news conference Monday, Mr. DePasqule said he estimates Pennsylvania could bring in $200 million a year by regulating and taxing marijuana. That projection is based on the model of marijuana regulation used in Colorado, which Mr. DePasquale said generated $129 million in a year with a population less than half that of Pennsylvania’s.
“I wasn’t necessarily convinced Pennsylvania should be the first, but now that we have actual results and data from other states, the evidence is clear that this can be both good socially and fiscally,” Mr. DePasquale said.
In 2016, taxing marijuana brought in $220 million in Washington, $129 million in Colorado and $65.4 million in Oregon, according to Mr. DePasquale’s office.
Eight states and the District of Columbia allow small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In November 2016, voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada approved recreational use by adults. Alaska also allows recreational use.
Pennsylvania has a budget shortfall projected at nearly $3 billion over this year and the next. In February, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed closing that gap through a combination of spending reductions and new taxes.
The auditor general, who serves as the state’s fiscal watchdog, said that taxing marijuana use is one of a number of suggestions he expects to make about how the state can close the gap.
Mr. DePasquale acknowledged that there may be reason to doubt that Pennsylvania will legalize recreational marijuana any time soon. The state authorized medical marijuana in April 2016, after years of advocacy, and that program is not expected to be fully in place until 2018.
“It is an entirely fair and appropriate question to say: Can this even happen in Pennsylvania?” he said.
But he noted that a little more than a decade ago, people might not have expected that gay couples would now be allowed to marry and that medical marijuana would have been overwhelmingly approved.
For now, it looks as if the idea of allowing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania has a way to go among the people who would be responsible for approving such a change.
“We don’t even have the medical cannabis program up and running yet, so it’s clearly a little premature to jump to the next step,” House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said. “While we’re appreciative of the auditor general’s multiple policy thoughts, as Pennsylvania and the nation is facing a serious drug problem, I’m not sure that legalizing a Schedule I narcotic is the best response.”
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana, like heroin and LSD, as Schedule I drugs, ones with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That classification has been a subject of criticism. More than half of U.S. states have approved medical marijuana programs, according to the NCSL.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said Pennsylvania should get its medical-marijuana program running before it considers expanding to other types of marijuana use. House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said members would carefully review what Mr. DePasquale had presented and would “not close off discussion of any measures” to help close the budget gap.
In a statement, Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said the governor appreciates Mr. DePasquale’s recognition of Pennsylvania’s budget deficit. Mr. Wolf supports decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, changing the possession of a small amount to the equivalent of a traffic citation, he said.
“Governor Wolf has long supported the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana to reduce the strain on our prison system and stop incarcerating so many people for nonviolent crimes like possession,” Mr. Abbott said. “However, the governor wants further study of the impact and implementation of full legalization on other states like Colorado before proceeding with that approach in Pennsylvania.”
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley
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