Pubdate: Thu, 06 Aug 2015
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2015 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Joseph O'Sullivan


U.S. Association of State Legislatures

Caution Urged on Tax-Revenue Hopes

Lawmakers and others from around the country attended a discussion 
Wednesday to learn from Washington and Colorado how best to think 
about legal marijuana and regulate it.

But even the experts in the pioneering states don't have all the 
answers yet, with questions still percolating on how much tax revenue 
marijuana can generate, and how best to regulate and enforce the use 
of the substance.

Speaking before several hundred people at a panel during a convention 
of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Sen. Jeanne 
Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, cautioned that Washington state should be 
careful not to be too optimistic about marijuana-tax revenue.

Democrats this spring questioned whether the state will reap all the 
marijuana tax revenue expected to materialize through 2019 - about 
$1.1 billion.

Depending on that much revenue is "going to come back to haunt us," 
Kohl-Welles predicted.

About 5,000 state lawmakers, legislative staffers and others were 
expected in Seattle this week for the annual conference of the NCSL, 
a bipartisan public-policy organization. The number included more 
than 70 Washington legislators.

While recreational-pot sales in Washington hit about $46 million for 
June, they dropped in July to about $39 million, according to state data.

States looking at marijuana to bring in lots of tax revenue should 
think twice, said panel member Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation, 
a pro-business-policy think tank.

"It's resulted in additional revenue," said Henchman, a vice 
president of the foundation, but not enough to rewrite state budgets.

The remarks came at a panel called "Legalizing Marijuana: Potholes 
and Possibilities" at the gathering at the Washington State Convention Center.

The panel included lawmakers from Washington and Colorado, as well as 
policy analysts, law-enforcement officials and attorneys. Panel 
members also spoke to the difficulties of measuring the impact of 
THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, which would help 
enforce laws like driving under the influence.

Kohl-Welles also questioned provisions in new recreational-marijuana 
reforms that ban public clubs for consuming marijuana - and making it a felony.

But Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, also on the panel, said there isn't 
yet enough research on how long people are impaired after using pot.

"We have determined the science in alcohol and so have a fairly 
uniform breathalyzer," she said.

Rivers cited a law she and Kohl-Welles helped develop allowing 
marijuana research, and said work is being done on a THC breathalyzer.

But for now, "I think it's best to sit tight and err on the side of 
safety," she added.

Washington lawmakers attended the NCSL conference free of charge, 
with 40 of the registrations paid by the Legislature at $549 each. 
The remainder of the registrations for Washington legislators were 
waived by NCSL, according to Andrew McVicar of the NCSL Host State Committee.

More than $1.4 million was raised by the Legislature from private 
donors to help host the event, according to McVicar. That included 
contributions by Amazon, Microsoft and the Washington Wine Institute.

The presentations and panels delved into all sorts of government 
minutiae, from recycling, to drones, to police-worn body cameras, 
state debt and budgeting.

In an exhibit hall, lobbying organizations - ranging from Wells Fargo 
and the Human Rights Campaign, to AARP and the American Association 
for Nude Recreation - had display booths set up.

There were social events like one Monday night to sample Washington 
wines. For Wednesday night, the NCSL reserved the Space Needle and 
Chihuly Garden and Glass. On Thursday morning, lawmakers were to ride 
bikes together through Seattle.

Even at a conference, some legislators were taking votes. The NCSL 
has national committees composed of lawmakers from around the country 
who vote on nonbinding statements regarding issues of the day.

Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip and member of the NCSL's Natural Resources 
and Infrastructure Committee, described one vote Tuesday as "a 
resolution to tell the federal government to gut the Clean Water Act."

But, "We were successful in beating that back," said McCoy.

Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom