Washington state predicts $636 million in taxes to state coffers from pot market through 2019

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OLYMPIA, Washington — The state's legal recreational marijuana market is expected to bring in about $636 million in taxes to state coffers through the middle of 2019, according to an economic forecast released Thursday.

The forecast by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council showed that just over $25 million from a variety of marijuana-related taxes — including excise, sales, and business taxes — is expected to be collected through the middle of next year.

An additional $207 million is expected for the next two-year budget that ends mid-2017. And $404 million is expected for the 2017-19 budget biennium.

The passage of Initiative 502 in 2012 allowed the sale of marijuana to adults for recreational use at licensed stores, which started opening this summer.

So far the state has issued 57 retail marijuana licenses. By early this month, 32 of the shops had opened. The state Liquor Control Board reported this week that total sales of recreational marijuana through Monday totaled just over $14 million, with the state receiving $3.5 million in excise taxes.

Steve Lerch, the revenue council's executive director, noted that the latest forecast changed previous outlooks that assumed sales wouldn't start until next year because of concerns about local moratoriums, bans on pot sales and general uncertainty about how the system would work.

He warned that the market is still developing, and the numbers will continue to change in future forecasts.

"There is so much we don't know about what these sales are going to look like," he said.

The overall updated forecast for Washington state's current two-year nearly $34 billion budget cycle shows that lawmakers may have about $169 million more available to them through the middle of 2015, and that they'll have an additional $143 million than additionally projected for the 2015-2017 biennium.

The projected overall state budget for 2015-17 is expected to be $36.7 billion.

Lawmakers will return to the Capitol in January for a 105-day legislative session with a state Supreme Court contempt order hanging over their heads for their lack of progress on fixing the way the state pays for public education.

The court has promised to reconvene and impose sanctions and other remedial measures if lawmakers do not make plans to solve the problem by the end of that session.

Without including education measures in the so-called McCleary decision, the projected shortfall for the next spending period is nearly $1 billion. To satisfy the court, that deficit could be up to $3 billion for the 2015-17 biennium.

David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, said that with the approaching budget challenges, the money raised by marijuana isn't very much.

"But any money is helpful," he said.

The next revenue forecast is scheduled for Nov. 19.

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