Pubdate: Tue, 07 Apr 2015
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Seattle Times Company


State tax revenues from legal marijuana sales, which began last 
summer, hit $33 million by the end of March. The total has risen 
steadily each month for the last nine months, as the recreational pot 
market authorized by Initiative 502 lurches to its feet.

That revenue is estimated to skyrocket up, potentially to $900 
million over the next four years, if the Legislature finally gets a 
handle on the unregulated medical marijuana market.

Rising revenue is proving to be like a candy dish for lawmakers now 
trying to balance the state budget. It is very tempting, but raiding 
marijuana tax revenues to pay for services not intended by the ballot 
measure ultimately is bad for the state's collective health.

Lawmakers from both parties and both chambers propose to do so. The 
Republican-led Senate budget does this most aggressively, eliminating 
the Dedicated Marijuana Fund created by I-502, and shifting most of 
the money to education. The Democratic-led House budget makes similar cuts.

What's lost in that cash-grab are the services that voters were 
promised when they approved I-502 in 2012. The initiative promised a 
big expansion of marijuana education and prevention services with 
marijuana tax proceeds - an investment to mitigate the known and 
expected future consequences of marijuana legalization, especially 
for the under-21 age group.

The need for a comprehensive education and prevention regime is 
underscored by the 2014 state Healthy Use Survey, which found 
significant declines in the percentages of 10th and 12th graders who 
say they believe there are risks in weekly marijuana use.

Neither Gov. Jay Inslee's administration nor the Legislature prepaid 
for prevention and education before the marijuana revenues began 
rolling in. That mistake will be compounded if lawmakers approve a 
wholesale diversion of earmarked funds now that the marijuana tax 
revenue has materialized.

Initiatives can be amended with a majority of the Legislature after 
two years, and I-502' s revenue allotments do need to be tweaked. For 
example, I-502' s revenue distribution clearly should be changed to 
give cities and counties an incentive to open their borders to legal 
marijuana stores. Absent that incentive, municipal prohibitions on 
the stores empower the black market.

But this incentive must not come at the cost of prevention and 
education programs promised to voters in 2012. The need for them is 
clear. The revenue is there. The Legislature must ensure it is used 
for what voters intended.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom