By Julie Lays
Nashville—Lawmaker interest in marijuana policy appears to be as high as ever, evidenced in part by the standing room only crowd at "The Straight Dope on Marijuana Revenues,” a session held Wednesday the Legislative Summit.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational (or adult-use) marijuana, and more states are considering it.
Often, the reason to legalize it centers on the argument that it will bring in a boatload of “new” revenue.
The prospect of a new revenue stream is appealing, of course, but how much money has recreational marijuana really generated so far?
Stephen Lerch, from the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, and Larson Silbaugh, with the Colorado General Assembly, answered that question for their states, the first two to legalize weed. Their answers were, in general, a lot. Although revenues usually tend to decrease as more states jump in, that impact has been minimal in these two pioneering states.
Sales in Colorado’s regulated pot industry since legalization began in 2014 topped $6 billion this spring (double the amount in 2014) and taxes generated by the industry grew by nearly 8% last year.
According to an article in Forbes, out of all states where recreational marijuana is legal, last year, Washington made the most in taxes with an estimated $319 million. California was close behind with $300 million while Colorado recorded the third-highest estimated tax revenue with $266 million.
Although this session was narrowly focused on revenue, questions from the audience reflected the strong interest in all things pot-related among legislators—from banking questions to the social costs to policy options.
Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.