Money from legal cannabis sales amounts to about 2% of the state operating budget.
This year marks a milestone for the state’s legal pot industry. For the first time since voters approved recreational pot use nine years ago, the state of Washington is expected to collect more than $1 billion in marijuana sales taxes and fees over the course of its next two-year budget cycle.
That’s nearly three times what the state collected from 2015 to 2017, the first budget period in which legal pot stores were open for business the entire time.
Still, that money isn’t totally up for grabs. Nearly two-thirds of it is already allocated under state law to specific public programs, following the rough outlines of a plan established by Washington’s 2012 legalization measure, Initiative 502.
While over time state legislators have made some changes to the framework set by I-502, they still have chosen to spend more than half of the state’s marijuana revenue on public health programs, as the ballot measure originally prescribed.
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Those preset obligations are partly why Washington lawmakers generally don’t consider pot revenue an ideal source of money for new initiatives. For instance, a proposal to legalize possession of all types of drugs in Washington state, House Bill 1499, wouldn’t tap marijuana tax revenue to pay for expanding drug treatment programs, as a similar law in Oregon does.
“Funding from the dedicated marijuana account is essentially already spoken for … and it funds a lot of stuff that we care about,” said state Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, the prime sponsor of Washington’s drug decriminalization bill.
This spring, Washington legislators are expected to pass a new two-year operating budget that spends more than $55 billion. All of the state’s projected pot revenues over the next two years amount to less than 2% of that.
“It’s a lot of money, but in the scheme of the state budget, it’s a relatively small percentage,” said state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, who serves as House Republican lead on budget issues.