Weed Whacker: Hogan Team Questions Jealous Plans for Legal Pot

Maryland Democrats are touting a plan backed by their gubernatorial hopeful, Benjamin T. Jealous, to expand kindergarten to 4-year-olds, using revenue generated by the legalization of marijuana. They say the 2012 referendum legalizing pot in Colorado provides a handy template for the windfall that would occur if Maryland were to follow a similar path. “Colorado… is a state that is similar in size to Maryland, so it’s a really good case study in understanding what kind of revenue we can expect from our regulation, legalization, and taxation of marijuana,” said Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), who has been tapped to serve as vice-chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee if he wins reelection, as expected.  Benjamin T. Jealous Maryland is in the process of implementing a recently-approved medical-marijuana program, but the legislature has yet to approve the drug for recreational use.   Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is open-minded, a spokesman said. “The governor has previously said he would be open to talk about it, but anything like that would have to be put in front of the voters,” said Douglass V. Mayer, deputy manager of Hogan’s reelection campaign.  “We just started our medical marijuana system, and we need to see how that plays out.” On a conference call arranged by the Maryland Democratic Party Monday, Smith estimated that legalization in Maryland would lead to $1.6 billion in sales. If the state applied the 9 percent sales tax that is used on alcohol and a 30 percent excise tax, marijuana would generate $378 million a year in revenue. Sen. William C. Ferguson IV (D-Baltimore City), who has been tapped to serve as vice chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said that would be more than enough to handle the $150 million-$250 million it would cost to “phase-in… high-quality” pre-K.  “Universal pre-K is one of the very few evidence-based strategies in education that we know works,” he said. “For every dollar invested in pre-K, there is a range between $5 and $7 in economic return. And we’ve seen this happen in a number of states.” Baltimore City Councilman Brandon M. Scott (D) said legalization would reduce the number of drug-related arrests, particularly in neighborhoods like his.   “Just a few weeks ago in my district there was a young man arrested for selling marijuana right on the corner of Belair and Powell Avenue, and at that same very corner, someone with a medical marijuana license can walk into a store and buy that,” he said.   “That is a crazy indictment on our society.”  The Hogan and Jealous camps heaped scorn on one another in a day-long series of interviews with reporters. The governor’s team claims that Jealous, who has advocated for pre-K for both 3- and 4-year-olds, is not being candid about the price tag connected to his publicly-stated proposals. They point to a 2016 state report showing that an expansion matching Jealous’ ambitions would cost $1.36 billion. The Hogan team also vehemently rejected the accusation from Democratic Party leaders that the governor was mischaracterizing Jealous’ proposals. “The Hogan campaign’s claim that universal pre-K will cost $1.2 billion is totally unfounded,” state Democratic Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews said on the conference call with reporters. “There’s not a single study out there that shows this would be the price tag for universal pre-K in Maryland.” While the state report backs up the Hogan team’s statement about the cost of expanded pre-K, Democrats insist that Jealous’ formal proposal is only to cover 4-year-olds, and they complain the administration is not counting the savings that come from an improved education system and better-educated students. “It’s very disingenuous to not assess the cost-savings that come with the expansion of high-quality pre-kindergarten,” said Ferguson. “There is objective evidence-based data that shows when you provide high-quality early-childhood education, you see a reduction in the special education services… not to mention the long-term benefits of high graduation rates [and] a higher rate of post-secondary educational opportunities.” “When you do right by early childhood education, you actually save Marylanders money in the long-term,” Ferguson continued. Mayer wasn’t buying it. “Gov. Hogan supports efforts to expand pre-K but what he doesn’t support is being dishonest with Marylanders about the cost, and according to state consultants it will cost at least $1.3 billion per year,” he said. The Hogan camp also pointed to comments Jealous made in Western Maryland on Monday, in which he said that tax revenue from weed could be used to fight drug addiction.   The Jealous team insisted it is not double-spending the same dollars. “If there is additional marijuana-based revenue after implementing universal pre-kindergarten then drug counseling is an option for where that funding could go,” said spokesman Steven Hershkowitz. Mayer countered: “Unless Ben Jealous plans to have every man and women over the age of 18 stoned 24 hours a day, then he is going to need to raise other taxes.” [email protected]

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