State lawmakers already looking to tap pot revenue

OLYMPIA — Washington state lawmakers are already starting to count on revenue from the legalization of marijuana, with the House approving a bill that would tap those tax dollars to expand early learning.

Before the House passed the bill on Wednesday night by a 59-38 margin, Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline, said she couldn’t think of a better use for the money. She argued that there was a clear nexus between helping children early in life and avoiding troubles later.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and federal officials have not yet decided whether to try and block implementation of the legalization measure. Washington is moving ahead with plans to develop a network of state-licensed growers, processors and retailers.

Republican Rep. Gary Alexander said he supports early education but would prefer to see the money come into the general fund and then be prioritized along with all other expenses. He suspected that early learning would be very strong on those priority lists but said it wasn’t right to dedicate one revenue stream to that plan.

“We don’t even know what that amount of money is,” Alexander said. “It’s too early to be dedicating something when we don’t really know what the source of (the) dollars is or how much we have to work with.”

If the legal marijuana system does get implemented, the state stands to bring in hefty new tax revenues. The product would be taxed heavily, with analysts estimating that a legal pot market could bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new money.

Kagi’s proposal is expected to cost more than $200 million per year by the 2017-2019 biennium.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

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