On Revenues and Referenda: Marijuana Legalization and Taxation Initiatives


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Voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will vote this November on ballot initiatives that, if passed, will legalize and tax marijuana purchased for recreational use.

These states are on the path of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which already allow the production, taxation, and sale of marijuana to adults for recreational purposes. Should these initiatives pass, the number of Americans living in states with legal marijuana would roughly quadruple, from about 18 million to 75 million, around 23 percent of the U.S. population.

States that already allow recreational marijuana sales have proven that while marijuana taxes are no budgetary panacea, they can raise millions in revenue. For example, as of mid-way through October 2016, Washington has collected $339 million from excise taxes on recreational marijuana since sales began in 2014. Similarly, Colorado collected about $300 million in revenue from marijuana sales between January 2014 and August 2016. For Colorado, this puts marijuana revenue at about 1 percent of the state’s general fund, which is well ahead of the amount collected on alcohol sales, yet still a bit below the revenue collected from cigarette taxes.

Here's a breakdown of each state's ballot initiative, including the potential plan to tax marijuana and what level of revenues these states could expect to collect:

Arizona

Arizona’s marijuana ballot initiative would place a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana and marijuana product sales. The revenues generated by this tax would be earmarked such that 40 percent would go to schools for education-related expenses, 40 percent would go to schools to provide full-day kindergarten services, and 20 percent would go to the Arizona Department of Health services to educate the public on the dangers of alcohol, marijuana, and other substances. The Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that this initiative would raise $135 million in extra revenues in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

California

The California ballot initiative would levy excise taxes on the cultivation of marijuana flowers and leaves at $9.25 per ounce and $2.75 per ounce, respectively. The measure also places a 15 percent excise tax on the retail price of marijuana. A fiscal analysis of the initiative found that it would raise revenues in the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually.

Of the revenues raised by the taxes imposed by this measure, $2 million would go to UC San Diego for the study of medical marijuana, $10 million per year for 11 years would go to California universities to research and evaluate the implementation and impact of the ballot initiative, $3 million per year for five years would go to the California Highway Patrol to develop protocols to determine whether a driver is impaired due to marijuana consumption, and $10 million, increasing each year by $10 million until reaching $50 million in 2020, would go to grants to promote employment and health and legal services in communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies. Of the remaining revenue from the measure, 60 percent would go to youth programs, 20 percent to the prevention and alleviation of environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana producers, and 20 percent to programs that reduce the negative impacts on health and safety resulting from the initiative.

Maine

Maine’s ballot initiative would levy a 10 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana. Additionally, jurisdictions can also impose privilege taxes on marijuana cultivation and manufacturing activities. Revenues raised from this tax would be deposited in the state’s General Fund and cannot be used for new state programs, except to train law enforcement personnel around marijuana retail laws and rules. The Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review estimates that the initiative would raise $2.8 million in additional revenues in 2017 and 2018, and $10.7 in subsequent years.

Massachusetts

The Massachusetts ballot initiative would subject marijuana to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax and retail marijuana would also be subject to a 3.75 percent excise tax, bringing the total state tax rate to 10 percent. Local municipalities would have the option of adopting an additional two percent excise tax. Medical marijuana would be exempt from these taxes. The Massachusetts Special Senate Committee on Marijuana estimates that the taxes would produce about $60 million in additional revenues. Of the $60 million, about $25 million would be set aside to fund the implementation of, enforcement of, regulation of, and local assistance for state marijuana policy, with the remainder going to the general fund.

Nevada

The Nevada ballot initiative would levy a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana. The revenues from state taxes would go to the State Distributive School Account, while revenues from local sales and use taxes would be distributed to the state and local governments in the same manner that they are currently distributed.

Aaron Mendelson, an ITEP intern, contributed to this report.

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