Lawmakers Still Have More Questions Than Answers on Marijuana Legalization

States banking on a consistent flow of revenue from the legalization of marijuana should slow their roll, according to a new report. That’s because the industry is too new for budget analysts to produce estimates that legislators can have confidence in.

“In Nevada’s first six months of collecting marijuana taxes, revenue came in 40 percent higher than budget officials expected, but in neighboring California revenue was 45 percent below projections in the first six months of collecting marijuana taxes,” the Pew Charitable Trusts report concludes

“With more states considering legalizing marijuana, forecasting and budgeting difficulties for revenue from recreational marijuana taxes are likely to become widespread,” researchers added. 

Forecasting misfires can have consequences for states that hope the legalization of marijuana will allow them to boost spending on government programs, the report warned. 

The analysis comes as Maryland and dozens of other states contemplate legalizing pot for adult use. Eleven states and Washington, D.C., have already done so. 

In Maryland, the Kirwan Commission has struggled to find a revenue stream for its ambitious educational reforms, leading many policymakers to speculate that a “pot for tots” play may be in the offing. That seems less likely given the revenue rollercoaster being experienced by the early-adopter states. 

In a briefing for legislators on Monday, William C. Tilburg, director of Policy and Government Relations at the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, said it’s impossible to know how many of the people who use marijuana illegally will would shift to storefront product. 

“This has been an illegal drug for decades,” he told the state legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Workgroup. “There’s not good data on how many individuals and the types of individuals that would purchase retail cannabis.” 

Tilburg said legal weed tends to be more expensive, because retailers have to pay licensing fees and put their product through government-mandated testing. “These are things the black market doesn’t have to go through.” 

John Hudak, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, cautioned lawmakers not to assume that current sellers will abandon their business just because the state makes it legal. 

“The idea that ‘we’ll legalize and the black market is gone’ is obviously naive,” he said. 

Lawmakers told to think like a drug user

Hudak said retail locations may be less convenient than a neighborhood supplier. Price-sensitive consumers will be drawn to the cost savings. Others will do it out of habit or loyalty to their seller. 

“Put yourself in the shoes of an average cannabis consumer,” Hudak told lawmakers, drawing chuckles. “Typically, when you’re having a public policy debate, a legislator is not going to say, ‘How would a marijuana user think?’ But here you really need to do that.” 

It’s not clear that the Marijuana Legalization Workgroup — a bipartisan panel that includes members of both chambers — will recommend legislation in time for the 2020 session. And if they do, there is no guarantee lawmakers are ready to give legalization the green light. 

The experts who testified at Monday’s work session offered a glimpse into the issues that states confront when making pot legal for adults:

— Will legalization lead to an increase in teen usage? (In Colorado, the first state to allow marijuana sales, youth use has decreased slightly.)

— Will more people drive under the influence of drugs? 

 — Will law-enforcement back away from arresting street-corner dealers because “it’s legal now”?

— Should people accused and/or convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana in the past have their records expunged?

— Should states allow marijuana deliveries?

 — Should they allow advertising on radio, TV, print or the Internet?

— Should there be limits on the health claims or other benefits associated with marijuana use?

Lawmakers got a feel for the amount of work state agencies will need to do to administer an adult-use program in Maryland – which they perhaps found surprising.

It came from Mathew R. Swinburne, associate director of The Network for Public Health Law, Eastern Region, who found that in Illinois – the most recent state to legalize marijuana – six state entities will have a hand in administering sales, including the Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer and the Departments of Financial and Professional Regulation, Agriculture, Public Health, Revenue, and Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“You can see that to effectively manage an adult use market you’re going to need expertise of a lot of agencies,” Swinburne said. 

It typically takes between nine months and two years to get the market up and running, lawmakers were told, meaning revenues — if and when they flow — won’t come immediately.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans — approximately 93 million people — now live in a state where marijuana sales are legal, Hudak said. 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All-American pastime, alcohol.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Nationwide!

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

  2. Damn FREE THE WEED LOOK OUR NORTHERN BORDER IS A LEGAL COUNTRY SOON OUR SOUTH WESTERN BORDER WILL BE A LEGAL COUNTRY IT IS TIME!!!

  3. I have used marijuana for years, but I quit for a good while in 1998, I had a good job at a pre-school and I was sober off of alcohol as well, things were going the best as ever, but Aug. 5, 1999 I got hit by a drunk driver, right away I had a brain injury and had seizures alot, about 2008 I had a friend tell me that marijuana would help, I blew him off, but only for a few months and because I heard it from alot of people, well doped up on 1,100 milligrams of brain injury med, I started back smoking, well since then I have never had a seizure after or when I smoked, im very sick and very doped up, but now when I smoke weed I just get “sober”, I don’t get high like I used too, all I can say is that “marijuana is the best brain injury med I have come across”, it’s been 20 years since I was hit by that drunk driver, I have a “VNS”, and take tons of med with side effects, marijuana helps like crazy! 1 thing I want considered is what “do you think about marijuana and brain damage???”, I don’t think I know it’s the best medicine there is. Now I know I am 1 person with this question? But im sure there’s others, will you please help me be able to live life with some peace of mind? Or will I have to “keep hiding what helps me”, it’s a plant not made by man, God put it here and I need His help…..brain injury hurts, will you help me out? Get in touch with me : “[email protected], 706-332-6116”, and anyway else PLEASE….thankyou, Joel

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