Pot sales to add millions to state revenue, forecast says

OLYMPIA — The state’s new legal recreational marijuana market is expected to bring nearly $190 million to state coffers over a four-year period starting in mid-2015, according to an economic forecast released Wednesday.

The forecast by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council showed that $51 million in revenue is expected for the 2015-17 biennium from marijuana production and sales. An additional $138.5 million is expected for the next two-year budget that ends mid-2019. A little under half of that revenue is expected from excise tax and license fees related to the marijuana market, and the rest is expected to come from retail sales tax and business taxes.

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

Steve Lerch, the council’s executive director, said that because of concerns over local moratoriums and bans on pot sales and general uncertainty about how the system will work, the council has made assumptions that sales won’t start until June of next year.

“Obviously, as we see any actual sales we’ll be able to revise, if necessary, our forecast,” he said. “But these seemed like reasonable estimates.”

Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter, a member of the Revenue Forecast Council and the top budget writer in the House, said the money projected isn’t enough to make spending expectations.

“More money is better,” he said. “But there’s not a whole lot more here.”

Hunter said that he expects the forecasts to move around over the next couple of years as the market takes hold and lawmakers are able to see how much money there actually is.

“We just don’t know,” he said. “The expansion is slow, the stores aren’t open. Something’s going to happen, we don’t know exactly what it is. We’re using the best data we have.”

Colorado is the only other state to legalize recreational pot sales, and its marijuana market is far exceeding tax expectations, according to a budget proposal released Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Retail sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado, and while sales have been strong, exact figures for January sales won’t be made public until early next month.

However, Hickenlooper’s proposal outlined plans to spend about $99 million next fiscal year on substance abuse prevention, youth marijuana use prevention and other priorities. The money would come from a statewide 10 percent sales tax on recreation pot, indicating Colorado’s total sales next fiscal year will be near $1 billion.

The overall updated forecast for Washington state’s current two-year $33 billion budget cycle shows that lawmakers may have $30 million more available to them through 2015, and that they’ll have an additional $82 million than additionally projected for the 2015-2017 biennium, with more than half of that increase due to the recreational marijuana market. The projected overall state budget for 2015-17 is expected to be $35.7 billion and increase to $38.7 billion for the next two-year budget cycle that begins July 1, 2017.

The next revenue forecast is scheduled for June 18.

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Associated Press

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