Friday, October 24, 2014
Patrick Gleason, who is the Director of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform, has this notable new commentary at Forbes headlined "Marijuana Taxes On The Ballot This November." Here are excerpts:
Voter approval of retail marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington State in 2012 presented lawmakers in those state capitals with a difficult task not faced before in the U.S.: how to tax and regulate legal recreational marijuana. As Joe Henchman, Vice President at the non-partisan Tax Foundation has pointed out, “Because marijuana can be purchased as a cigarette, an edible, a liquid, or vapor, all with a wide variety of concentrations, a specific excise tax is untenable.” Since then, Colorado and Washington State lawmakers have imposed onerous and excessive taxes on marijuana; but on Nov. 4, Washington State voters will have the opportunity to tell their representatives in the state legislature to reconsider.
During the 2014 session of the Washington legislature, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 6505, which deemed the marijuana industry to be non-agricultural, thereby removing excise tax protections that apply to the state’s agriculture industry. This redefining of the industry will permit, if allowed to stand, more than $24 million in higher taxes over the next decade than would’ve otherwise been the case. On Nov. 4, Washington residents will vote on Advisory Question Number 8, a ballot measure that would urge the legislature to either maintain or repeal this reclassification of marijuana products as non-agricultural.
Washington State taxes marijuana with a 25 percent assessment on sales from producers to processors, a 25 percent tax on sales from processors to retailers, followed by another 25 percent tax on retail sales. That’s not all. Then there is the Evergreen State’s Business & Occupation gross receipts tax, a 6.5 percent state sales tax, along with local sales taxes. Altogether this brings the estimated effective tax rate on marijuana products to approximately 44 percent. In light of the onerous tax treatment of marijuana products and companies tied to that industry, it would be a positive development for Washington voters to vote repeal on Advisory Question 8 and urge lawmakers in Olympia to reverse the non-agricultural reclassification that will beget such punitive taxation.
But it’s not just at the state level where the marijuana industry faces excessive and unfair taxation. It’s a basic principle of sound tax policy that the code should not pick winners and losers or disproportionately target certain industries or groups of taxpayers. Yet unlike any other business, newly-legalized cannabis dispensaries are not allowed to deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses like equipment, rent, and wages from their federal taxable income....
Section 280E of the tax code denies ‘ordinary and necessary’ business expenses as a deduction against income derived from Schedule 1 substances. Unfortunately, tax law does not make any distinction between illegal street drug sales and state-established, legal cannabis dispensaries. These latter businesses comply fully with state law, pay all applicable taxes, and are vigorously regulated. There is no reason why the tax code should deny ordinary and necessary business expenses to legitimate businesses established under state law. The result is an arbitrary and punitive situation where legal employers face very high average effective tax rates that Congress never sought to impose on businesses.
Colorado, like Washington State and the federal government, exorbitantly taxes marijuana. Between the state’s 15 percent wholesale excise tax, a 10 percent state tax on marijuana retail sales, plus traditional state and local sales taxes, the effective rate on cannabis approaches 30 percent in the Rocky Mountain State.
It’s great to have 50 laboratories of democracy across the U.S., and the trials with legal marijuana taking place in Washington and Colorado will be instructive for other states and the federal government. Yet, when such heavy and unreasonable taxation is imposed, it blunts the positive effects of legal cannabis – such as the eradication of black markets and drug cartels – and makes it impossible to fully learn from the experience. Washington voters and members of Congress have the opportunity to help get it right, if they so choose.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Do you want legalized marijuana to replicate the harms caused by tobacco and alcohol use? Do you want the marijuana business to become the new "Big" as in Big Tobacco? Assuming your answer is no, Vikas Bajaj's "Rules for the Marijuana Market" published in yesterday's New York Times offers some policy recommendations for preventing these results.
This excerpt from Bajaj's opinion piece outlines the policy goals for regulating legal marijuana:
Beyond keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, a good regulatory system has to limit the increase in drug abuse that is likely to accompany lower prices and greater availability after legalization. It should protect consumers from both dangerous and counterfeit products, reducing the physical risk from a psychoactive substance. And a well-regulated system should undermine and eventually eliminate the black market for marijuana, which has done great damage to society.
Another goal not stated in this discussion is to prevent marijuana monopolies.
Bajaj offers three recommendations. The first recommendation is to tax marijuana "to curb use." This recommendation is not new but Bajaj suggests an interesting twist:
Colorado and Washington have imposed high tax rates that are based on price, much like existing sales taxes. But Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, rightly warns that those taxes will lose their bite when prices inevitably decline as marijuana businesses become more efficient at production. A better approach would be to tax the drug based on its potency — which can be measured in various ways, including by the amount of the component THC in a batch — and increase the rate over time to keep up with inflation.
Bajaj's second recommendation is "don't market to minors." This recommendation is also generally accepted but important to avoid even the appearance of emulating Big Tobacco which Project SAMS builds on in its recent ad [see Doug's post ]
Finally, Bajaj recommends that "growers shouldn't be sellers" "to ensure that the industry does not evolve into a group of politically and financially powerful vertically integrated businesses." ASA's report on state laws, summarized in a post by Alex, supports Bajaj's recommendation but this "seed to sale" model is used by New York's new MMJ law.
I found Bajaj's insights into how Big Alcohol was and is regulated interesting and informative. And his suggestion about the potency tax is intriguing. Any comments on this recommendation pro or con?
Friday, August 1, 2014
"Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding: A Report on the State’s Implementation of Legalization"
I highlighted and celebrated in this post a few months ago that The Brookings Institution was committed to "researching the new marijuana industry, not as advocates, but as social scientists, interested in how our federal system comes to terms with statewide decisions to legalize a substance that is illegal in the rest of the country, and how states implement those policy changes." The first significant report resulting from that research carries the title that is the title of this post. And here are excerpts from the start of this notable 35-page Brookings report:
In November 2012, Colorado voters decided to experiment with marijuana. Formally, they approved Amendment 64, modifying the state constitution. This move was historic and did something which, to that point, no other state or modern foreign government had ever done: legalize retail (recreational) marijuana. As part of the amendment, the state was required to construct legal, regulatory, and tax frameworks that would allow businesses to cultivate, process, and sell marijuana not simply to medical patients — as had been happening in Colorado for over a decade—but to anyone 21 and older. This change came despite existing federal prohibition of marijuana and opposition from the governor, state attorney general, many mayors, and the law enforcement community.
At its heart, this report is about good government and takes no position on whether the legalization of retail marijuana was the correct decision. Instead, it takes for granted that Amendment 64 and its progeny are the law and should be implemented successfully, per voters’ wishes. The report examines what the state has done well and what it has not. It delves into why, and how, regulatory and administrative changes were made. Finally, it offers an evaluation of how effective the implementation has been.
Prior related post:
August 1, 2014 in Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Analysts predict Oregon would generate $38.5 million in tax revenue in first year of pot legalization
As detailed in this lengthy new report, titled simply "Oregon Cannabis Tax Revenue Estimate," a prediction of marijuana usage is at the heart of economists' prediction of significant tax revenues is the citizens of Oregon legalize recreational marijuana this fall. Here is the report's Executive summary:
Oregonians are slated to vote on the “Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act” in November 2014. The measure would regulate, tax, and legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older with legal use beginning in July, 2015.
Economists at ECONorthwest conducted an independent study to estimate the amount of money that would be generated in the short term if the Act passes. The money generated in taxes would go to schools, state and local police, and programs for drug treatment, prevention, drug education, and mental health.
The key findings of this analysis are:
• $38.5 million in excise tax revenue would be generated during the first fiscal year of tax receipts;
• $78.7 million in excise tax revenue would be generated during the first full biennium of tax receipts.
The report does not look at the impact on courts, police, and jail operating costs due to legalization. The forecast is based on a comprehensive methodology that includes the following: the cost of production; price elasticity; the price of marijuana and its retail products; market demand; the short-term demand remaining in the gray market; accessibility of non-medical sales; new market entrants; home production; and non-resident demand.
The “Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act” legalizes the growth, processing, wholesaling, and retailing of marijuana for adult purposes. If enacted, retail sales in Oregon could begin July 1, 2016.
Petitioners for this Act asked ECONorthwest to forecast state government tax revenues that would arise in the first fiscal year of its implementation, presumed to be July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 (FY 2017). Similarly, they asked ECONorthwest to estimate tax revenues in the first full biennium, July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019 (2017-19 biennium). This report summarizes ECONorthwest’s research and forecast.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
As reported in this AP piece, which is somewhat inaccurately headlined "House Votes to Allow Marijuana-Related Banking," last night brought another notable vote from the GOP-lead House of representatives concerning federal regulatory rules surrounding federal pot prohibition. Here are the (somewhat complicated) details of the latest notable vote:
The House voted Wednesday in support of making it easier for banks to do business with legal pot shops and providers of medical marijuana. The 236-186 vote rejected a move by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., to block the Treasury Department from implementing guidance it issued in February telling banks how to report on their dealings with marijuana-related businesses without running afoul of federal money-laundering laws.
Marijuana dealing is still against federal law, so banks who do business with marijuana dispensaries could be accused of helping them launder their money. Federal money laundering convictions can mean decades in prison.
The Treasury guidance was intended to give banks confidence that they can deal with marijuana businesses in states where they're legal. Many banks are still reluctant to do so. That has forced many marijuana operations to stockpile cash, a situation that shop owners say is dangerous.
"They are operating just in cash, which creates its own potential for crime, robbery, assault and battery," said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., whose state has legalized recreational pot use. "You cannot track the money. There is skimming and tax evasion. So the guidance by the Justice Department and the guidance by the Treasury Department is to bring this out into the open."
The vote is largely symbolic since Treasury already had gone ahead with the guidance, but it demonstrates a loosening of anti-marijuana sentiment on Capitol Hill. "Whereas the federal government once stood in the way of marijuana reform at every opportunity, the changing politics of this issue are such that more politicians are now working to accommodate popular state laws so that they can be implemented effectively," said marijuana advocate Tom Angell.
A coalition of 46 mostly GOP moderates and libertarian-tilting Republicans joined with all but seven Democrats to beat back Fleming's attempt to block the Treasury guidance.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
This local article from Connecticut, headlined "Medical marijuana's first product, jobs," highlights some of the reasons I believe marijuana reform is going to garner a lot more adherents than opponents among those interesting in economic development. Here are excerpts:
Months before any cannabis-based products will reach patients, Connecticut's new medical-marijuana industry has already created hundreds of jobs -- in construction. Former factories are being reconfigured into secure pharmaceutical facilities for the growing, harvesting, curing and preparation of various strains of marijuana that should be delivered to the state's dispensaries by early fall.
Since the state awarded four marijuana producer licenses in January, an estimated $20 million has been committed to the West Haven, Watertown, Portland and Simsbury buildings that in a few weeks will begin growing thousands of pounds of pot....
In a West Haven industrial zone parallel to Interstate 95, David Lipton, managing partner of the Fairfield-based Advanced Grow Labs, is supervising the conversion of 26,000 square feet of space that will house sterile laboratories, heavily lighted grow areas and budding rooms that will promote marijuana flowers, the part of the plant with the highest concentration of active ingredients. During a tour of the sprawling, noisy one-story building last week, more than a dozen electricians, sheet-rock experts and other subcontractors worked to transform the space....
Advanced Grow Labs is one of a series of new projects that are bringing economic growth, said Joseph A. Riccio Jr., commissioner of development for West Haven. Last year, city building permits brought in $800,000 to the city, but in the first five months of this year, the total has already topped $1 million.
He said the medical marijuana industry is obviously fostering jobs while the region still recovers from the recession. "This is a good boost for tradesmen," he said during a phone interview last week. "Every job is a good job."
Lipton estimates his company has invested about $2.5 million in construction and equipment, employing dozens of workers at a time, from structural and mechanical engineers, to steel fabricators to sheetrock installers, tapers, masons, electricians and plumbers. Those workers are generating Worker's Compensation and payroll taxes for the state. "There's definitely a positive effect on the economy," he said, adding various building and work permits from West Haven generated revenue for the city and that once up and running, the company will also pay personal property taxes....
Thirty-two miles to the north, in a hilltop Watertown industrial park near Route 8, Ethan Ruby, CEO of Theraplant, is supervising a similar conversion to a 63,000-square-foot building, about half of which will be renovated for initial production. The operation will have a 900-square-foot safe for storing market-ready material.
Ruby, who heads the state growers' association, said his company has invested about $8 million, nearly half of the estimated $20 million the four producers have spent for the initial phases of operations. On a recent day, Ruby counted 73 workers on-site, including landscapers, sheetrock installers and electricians.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The title of this post is the title of Pat Oglesby's latest paper which, as always, is a must read for anyone who follows these issues. The paper is part of the program for the upcoming International Society for the Study of Drug Policy conference in Rome (which looks fantastic and which I'm very sad I won't be able toattend.)
Ogleby's paper, available at his blog, serves as a great guide to a range of options and issues related to taxing marijuana. Here is the abstract:
After marijuana is legalized, the costs of producing and selling it will collapse. A windfall economic gain will be up for grabs. Policymakers might allow that gain to go to consumers (encouraging use) or to cannabusinesses (encouraging production). Or, through revenue measures, they might direct the gain to elsewhere, or to society as a whole. New revenue for government does not justify legalization of marijuana. New revenue may not cover the costs that legalization creates, and a revenue stream gives government a permanent stake in intoxication. Revenue is only one card in a large deck of drug policy options. But it is the most powerful card.
How to play it? The safest, correctable way to distribute an intoxicant is government monopoly, Uruguay style. Retail-only monopoly can match or beat bootleggers’ wares. But monopoly breeds cronyism and corruption, unless power is spread around and transparent. In the United States, states might need to tweak the monopoly model to keep state control over location and price while assigning sales concessions to businesses.
A riskier plan is taxed commercial distribution, Colorado and Washington style. In the inevitable price war, bootleggers will act in a New York minute; Legislatures will not. That is a handicap. And no tax is perfect. Taxing by THC potency is theoretically appealing, but unworkable. A price tax base has several pitfalls. Even a weight base is problematic.
Three other models are possible: auctioning licenses, collective farming, and sales by non- profits.
Since no one really knows how to legalize, flexibility to change course is of the utmost importance.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Stephen Colbert had this amusing little segment about marijuana taxes recently:
Though Colbert is hilarious as always, those wanting serious coverage of pot taxes should be sure to follow Pat Oglesby's always fantastic work at http://newrevenue.org.
Friday, February 28, 2014
The title of this post is drawn from the title of this recent published scholarly article that, on the surface and even in substance, seems be about a lot of topics other than marijuana law, policy and reform. But the title caught my eye, and I think all would-be marijuana reform advocates ought to check out the article, because I strongly believe the marijuana tax stories and regulations that that emerge in state and federal law and policies in the months and years ahead will be the most important predictor of whether pot prohibition eventually gets fully repealed or lives on and on in the United States.
The article is authored by Susannah Camic Tahk, it is published at 50 Harvard Journal of Legislation 67 (2013), and it is available here via SSRN. Here is its abstract:
In contrast to major legislative reform packages in the 20th century, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 took the form of a tax bill. Although this legislation is the first massive social and regulatory overhaul completed through the tax code, in the past twenty-five years the U.S. Congress and Presidential administrations have substantially increased their use of tax law for non-revenue-raising purposes. Growing reliance on the tax code represents a structural transformation of how Congress and Presidential administrations have come to approach lawmaking goals. This transformation defies the near-consensus of previous tax scholarship, which, following Stanley Surrey, disapproves of embedding programs in the tax code. However, that dominant view rests on assumptions that have become outdated. This Article analyzes the ongoing structural transformation by observing and explaining the advantages that accrue from pursuing social and regulatory objectives through the tax code. In particular, this Article identifies a number of legislative and normative advantages that tax-embedded policies offer.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The past few days have seen changes in marijuana tax estimates in Washington and Colorado. Pat Oglesby has some insightful thoughts on these developments, and the difficulty of estimating marijuana tax revenue generally, in this post for the Huffington Post today:
While marijuana revenue could be a promising new source of income for states, a wide range of expectations underscores how little we know so far about what mature markets will look like one day. Last week, early projections for marijuana revenue in the first two legalizing states gave way to new ones. In Colorado, expectations rose; in Washington, they collapsed. As projections zig-zag, other states considering legalization don't know what to expect.
In Colorado, the number jumped by 60 percent, from $67 million to $107 million. That's for the first fiscal full year of marijuana excise taxes. The old, lower number came from the Legislature last August; the new, higher one came from the Governor on February 18.
In Washington, the number collapsed from $1.6 billion to $129 million -- a drop of over 90 percent. Oops. Those numbers are for marijuana excises by the end of Fiscal 2017. The old, higher number came from a criticized 2012 legislative estimate; the new, lower, more plausible one came from the state's official Forecast Council on February 19.
That's confusing. But even comparing the official forecasts is confusing. The numbers above are just for excise taxes.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this effective new Huffington Post commentary by former congressional tax staffer Pat Oglesby. Here are excerpts:
With marijuana legalization gaining steam, we might ask not just whether to legalize, but how. Here are three tax mistakes that California and other states can still avoid.
Mistake 1. Collecting late....
Mistake 2. Taxing manipulable price....
Mistake 3. Tying lawmakers' hands....
What about this year's crop of marijuana revenue proposals? Some ace the test, avoiding late retail collections, price manipulation, and rigidity. Bills in Maine, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island — and an initiative in Alaska — tax at the wholesale level by weight, and don't tie lawmakers' hands. That's 3 for 3 right. But the most prominent California initiative, The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act, would tax only at retail by percentage of price, and would freeze taxes through 2022. That gets everything wrong: 0 for 3.
We are just figuring out how to legalize marijuana. Some legalization plans will work, but some won't. We can follow, adapt, or learn from models for tobacco and alcohol — which we've been forming and reforming since Colonial times. That way, we can at least avoid making the same old mistakes over and over. We'll be making plenty of new ones.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Colorado could have more than 100 recreational-marijuana stores open Jan. 1, according to newly released numbers from the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division. The division, which oversees Colorado's regulation of marijuana businesses, accepted 136 applications in October from people seeking to open recreational pot shops. The division also accepted 28 applications for recreational marijuana-infused-products businesses and 174 applications for recreational cultivation facilities.
The businesses that applied in October will have a decision made on their applications by the end of the year, said Julie Postlethwait, a spokeswoman for the Marijuana Enforcement Division. That means they are in line to open Jan. 1, the earliest date for recreational-marijuana sales in Colorado.
By law, all of the applications came from people currently operating medical-marijuana businesses in Colorado. But the tallies represent just a fraction of the state's medical-marijuana industry. Colorado has 517 medical-marijuana dispensaries, 138 medical-marijuana-infused products businesses and 736 medical-marijuana-cultivation facilities, according to the Marijuana Enforcement Division.
"It's expensive," Meg Collins, the executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, said in explaining why so few medical-marijuana businesses are seeking to add a recreational component. "In the discussions I've had with folks, I think that one of the things that possibly forestalled people from immediately jumping in is the financial consideration."
Application fees for new recreational-marijuana businesses start at $500 and licensing fees range from $2,750 to $14,000, depending on the type of business and other factors. Postlethwait said the division has not finished its accounting on how much money it collected in October, but estimated that application fees alone brought in around $179,000.
Only two of the businesses that have applied indicated they would make a full conversion to recreational sales, Postlethwait said. The rest intend to operate jointly as medical- and recreational-marijuana stores. In some cases, those businesses will have to divide the shops with a wall and give each shop a separate entrance.
Local bans and moratoriums on recreational pot sales — including in places such as Colorado Springs and Boulder, each of which has dozens of medical-marijuana dispensaries — have also kept recreational applications down, said Mike Elliott, the executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. Still, Elliott said more businesses are applying for recreational licenses this month and they, too, could receive permission to open shortly into the new year.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The title of this post is the student-selected topic for discussion this week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar. Here is the outline of issues and resources the students prepared to foster and facilitate discussion:
My Experience Working at a Marijuana Dispensary – One girl's first-hand account of her experience working at a dispensary in California for one year
14 Kinds of Jobs Sustained by Marijuana – According to Indeed.com, which tracks job listings, in 2011 there was over a 3,000 percent increase in the medical marijuana industry since 2005. This is a list of 14 types of jobs available in medical cannabis.
Your Genius Idea for a 420-Friendly Lazer Tag Arena Could Soon Become Reality in Colorado – Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) is accepting applications for business proposals, but only existing medical marijuana shop owners are allowed to apply for the recreational marijuana licenses for the first nine months. Investors have committed “well over $1 million” to Colorado marijuana companies.
High-Paying Jobs Available in New Medical Marijuana Industry? – Dixie Elixirs, Denver-based company that manufactures medicated edibles, employed directly in excess of 10,000 employees, including high-salary executive jobs, scientists, and attorneys.
Cannabis Career Institute Hits Chicago to Help Residents Cash in on ‘The New Gold Rush’– CCI is continuing its educational tour in Chicago, teaching students the ins and outs of owing a dispensary or grow operation through their “pot college.”
Marijuana Entrepreneurs, Seminars, and Finance
These are all resources that pertain to creating your own marijuana business. They are comprised of seminar services, RSS feeds regarding important marijuana entrepreneur news, and derivative sources of some economics that marijuana creates.
Comparison to Casino and Alcohol
Links with state-by state jobs numbers for the wine and spirits industry (not including the beer industry). No need to read through all of them, just click on a few links to get a sense of the alcohol industry's job impacts. http://www.wswa.org/search_results.php?search=repeal%20prohibition&type=news
A PDF fact sheet of the total number of jobs the alcohol industry supports: http://www.discus.org/assets/1/7/ContributionFactSheet.pdf
A brief survey of casino jobs across America: http://www.americangaming.org/industry-resources/research/fact-sheets/casino-employment
An employment study from "The Journal of Gambling Business and Economics." Apparently that's a thing. It's a technical read, so they should read the descriptive parts and skip the technical parts. http://www.walkerd.people.cofc.edu/360/AcademicArticles/Cotti2008.pdf
Another employment study, done by the St. Louis Federal Reserve. The gaming has had a positive impact on employment in localities across the country. http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/04/01/garrett.pdf
1) In addition to the educational aspects of the store, weGrow provides anywhere between 15 and 20 full- and part-time jobs. But Mann says it’s the ancillary jobs created that make a difference, including hiring a doctor on site for medical marijuana evaluations; professors to teach classes, including technicians and experienced growers; design and construction positions; security positions, and distributors. About 75 indirect jobs are created with the opening of each weGrow store. http://aznow.biz/small-biz/wegrow-phoenix-opens-cultivates-opportunities-arizona%29
2) By recognizing the potential for medical marijuana business advertisements, the Sacramento News and Review is expanding its distribution and hiring more staff. http://www.today.com/id/43641235/ns/business-us_business/#.Um8iJiRieiY
3) Interesting stats — apparently only a quarter of people think legalized pot would lead to more jobs in their community, while 57% believe there would be no effect. Makes you wonder if this is a (mis)perception that should be hit harder by legalization reformers. If the benefits can be demonstrated to those in the 57% camp maybe you pull in some new supporters. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/20/legalizing-pot-will-not-b_n_544526.html?
4) Mr. McPherson said the city stood to reap more of what he called the “secondary benefits.” “You’ve got accountants that are working for them, you’ve got all the security companies that are working for them, you have labs that are working for them, you have bakeries that are baking all the edibles, you have union employees that are getting great benefits, you have delivery services, hydroponic stores, doctors get some benefit,” he said. “It’s the secondary market that gains from this, and all of those pay business taxes to us.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/cities-turn-to-a-crop-for-cash-medical-marijuana.html?_r=2&
Sunday, October 20, 2013
This past week in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar, two students did a wonderful job focusing the class readings (assembled here) and the class discussion on tax issues. I came away from the experience not only once again impressed by how effectively law students can deliver complicated legal content to fellow law students, but also truly fascinated by the array of tax policy issues and questions that legalized state marijuana regimes necessarily engender. Pat Oglesby (a former Congressional tax staffer) has put together this commentary for the Huffington Post, titled "Taxing Marijuana: Four Questions," which highlights just a few of the challenging policy issues that a legal marijuana industry is now creating:
Marijuana legalization brings tax questions: Whether to tax, how much, for whose benefit, and by what measure. None of the answers is obvious....
American consumers today reportedly spend around $30 billion a year for marijuana. That's a pot of gold. Where will that money go?.... Ganjapreneurs — producers and sellers of legal marijuana — are lining up to share in that $30 billion (or whatever the number turns out to be). But tempering the profit motive may go a long way toward building public support — and toward addressing concerns of worried parents. Colorado's successful 2012 initiative enticed voters with taxes for school construction; Washington's helped a laundry list of programs. Marijuana revenue could go into the general fund, or allow cuts of unpopular taxes. There will never be a "right" way to split up the money....
So far, taxes have been based on percentage of sales price. That's easy to calculate: It requires no weigh stations or product testing. But a percentage base is easy to get around. Free Joint Giveaways, like those designed to boost opposition to taxes in Colorado, would be tax free, since any percentage of zero is always zero. And how would anyone figure the tax on hotel stays bundled for one price with free marijuana? When the seller winks at the buyer when selling something for below its fair market price, it's hard for auditors to figure out its "real" price — that's how Google, Starbucks, GE, and other multinationals make a laughing stock of international tax rules.
Price-based taxes will swing wildly up and down as an industry starts up and prices find equilibrium. That's not good. If we look for analogies, price is not the base for any federal alcohol tax. Taxes on liquor and wine depend on alcohol content; beer taxes depend on volume.
Taxing marijuana by weight would solve some problems, but powerful ounces would be taxed the same as weak ounces. Still, the choice for marijuana plant material is either price or weight: Taxes based on content of psychoactive THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) won't work. Test results are not replicable because the material is not fungible enough — not consistent in THC content....
Still, percentage-based taxes don't require indexing for inflation. In real terms, unindexed Federal alcohol taxes have shrunk dramatically since the last increase, in 1991....
Taxing marijuana is no easy matter, but tax-free marijuana could cause a voter backlash -- or intervention from a federal government worried about leakage to other states and underage users.... A state monopoly would be the most cautious approach to legalization, but states have steered clear of selling through state stores, which would directly violate federal law. We are not even at the end of the beginning of figuring out the revenue issues -- and many more things -- around legalized marijuana.
This effective new Time magazine article highlights an important reality that was also stressed by my students in this week's class: there are significant differences in the tax rates and approaches being adopted in Colordo and Washington as they become the first two states with a legalized and regulated recreational marijuana marketplace. And though a range of factors are sure to impact the "success" of new pot policies in these states, there are good reasons to believe tax policies may be the legal factor that has the most tangible and consequential impact on how the marijuana marketplaces emerge and evolve.
Because I know very little about tax policy, especially at the state level, I am certain I will be unable to follow closely and with sophistication the tax policy debates and developments that will continue to unfold as marijuana laws get reformed and marijuana markets transform in the months and years ahead. But as the title of this post highlights, I think this is an important and fertile arena for the work of tax policy experts.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Over the next two months, the students in my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar are "taking over" the class and classroom by selecting topics of special interest to them and assembling readings to provide the basis for our classroom discussions of these topics. I am excited to be able to post those readings in this space, and the first week is devoted to coverage of tax issues. Here is my students' recommended reading list with links to all the terrific reader-friendly resources they have assembled:Sources addressing Colorado and Washington's tax plans
"Colorado Amd 64 Taskforce Tax Recommendations," an attached PDF [available here Download Colorado Amd 64 Taskforce Tax Recommendations] excerpting 4 pages from the Governor's taskforce's report on regulation more generally. These recommendations shaped Proposition AA.
Information on Proposition AA, the Colorado tax law that voters will approve (or not) in November. Includes the text of the proposition and some analyses. Also, a link to H.B. 1318, which basically created Prop AA and submitted it for voter approval.
The Anti-Proposition AA movement. The proposed taxes are too high, they say.
Denver wants a 3.5% local tax on marijuana, with ability to increase up to 15% later.
"Cato Estimated Tax Revenue from Legalization," attached PDF [available here Download Cato Estimated Tax Revenue from Legalization] projecting revenues from 50% excise tax on marijuana, asserted to be comparable to existing alcohol and cigarette taxes.
- Rand Study on Legalization Effects, chapters 3 and 4 are relevant to our topic. Having trouble excerpting from the full PDF.
- Federal bill, H.R. 501, proposing 50% excise tax on marijuana
SAMSHA National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2013: The relevant portion is Section 2: figures 2.1, 2.2, 2.9 and 2.10. Illicit Drug Use. Details marijuana use figures by frequency, amount, and age categories.