Marijuana Tax for Education

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A group promoting a 2016 ballot measure that would legalize marijuana wants to use tax proceeds from marijuana sales for education. Steve White of The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll hear from backers of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana. Also tonight, a discussion with Roc Arnett, who will soon retire from the east valley partnership. And we'll update news from Tucson in another edition of Southern Exposure. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Supporters of a proposed state ballot measure to legalize marijuana are saying that taxes on cannabis sales could fund Arizona education to the tune of $40 million a year. Here with more is Steve White, a co-author of the proposed 2016 measure. Good to have you here, welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

STEVE WHITE: Thank you, Ted.

TED SIMONS: So legalizing this, where did we get this $40 million number?

STEVE WHITE: The $40 million number is an estimate based on Colorado's revenues that they're generating monthly.

TED SIMONS: And what are they generating monthly? Or yearly let's say.

STEVE WHITE: What they've done, what we did to come up with this number is we tried to figure out a -- you take the usage rate, Arizona compared to Colorado, and compare it to the population. You use the numbers that they're generating and from that we come up with 80% will be the $40 million.

TED SIMONS: Are you aware of any independent analysis being done here? Because I think folks will hear you're doing this and you're coming up with your own figures here. Anyone doing this independently?

STEVE WHITE: Not yet, no.

TED SIMONS: As far as the measure, what does the measure call for? What do you want to see voters vote on?

STEVE WHITE: So the voters are going to vote to legalize limited amounts of cannabis for adults 21 and over. It will provide tax revenue streams to education and public health in Arizona.

TED SIMONS: And when you say limited amounts, one ounce per person? Up to six plants grown? Did I get that correct?

STEVE WHITE: That is correct yes.

TED SIMONS: And if more than that or different than that, you have to be licensed?

STEVE WHITE: There is a licensing system so there will be businesses that are licensed and those businesses can sell more than that. They can grow more than that. They can produce more than that.

TED SIMONS: As far as the tax is concerned, how much will these businesses be taxed and how much does that tax money go to education and public health?

STEVE WHITE: 80% goes to education, 20% goes to public health. Of the 15% excise tax which does not include the state tax and the local taxes that are sort of lumped with that 15% excise tax.

TED SIMONS: Now, as far as the money that goes to education, how is it split K-12 and otherwise?

STEVE WHITE: So there's K-12, and then there's all-day kindergarten, each one splits 40% each of the total tax revenue from the excise tax.

TED SIMONS: All right, and then after that we've got public -- I mean, public health.

STEVE WHITE: Public health for the remaining 20% yes.

TED SIMONS: All right, critics will say that you can look at Colorado and Colorado did have a pretty strong start the first year, but the second-year tax revenue fell off considerably. Respond to that, please.

STEVE WHITE: I think actually the opposite is true, that the first year was a little slower than they anticipated and that's due to the fact that it was quite challenging for these businesses to open up, one. And secondly, there was a provision in the Colorado law that allows for one transfer to occur without a tax being applied. So they came in under their estimations, although they still produced revenue that they wouldn't otherwise have produced. In the second year they are now hitting those projections almost on the dot, on a monthly basis.

TED SIMONS: So what I gathered you're saying it's flipped, first year slow, next year much higher and stronger?

STEVE WHITE: That's correct. And, in fact, you've heard stories about the possibility that people would actually -- citizens would get money back because they don't know what to do with all the tax revenue.

TED SIMONS: Critics will also say the potential damage to people, to kids, whether it's treatment accidents, hospitalization, that potential damage, you can talk about $40 million all you want to education but the damage would be even higher. How do you respond?

STEVE WHITE: So those are the same people who said the exact same things about medical marijuana in Arizona and they've proven to not be true. What we've seen under the medical marijuana regime is actually decreased societal cost as they relate to things like alcohol. So what we've seen as we've started to liberalize our marijuana laws is actually the opposite is true. The societal costs are lower than what they were before, so you see decreases in crime, you see decreases in drunk driving, you see decreases in opiate overdoses. So I don't really know where they come up with that. I think they're stretching things a bit.

TED SIMONS: And they also mention just the fact that if kids are anywhere close to this stuff, you'll have more problems with dropouts, academic issues, these sorts of things. Valid argument?

STEVE WHITE: Invalid argument, actually. Again, it is something that was an argument made related to the medical marijuana initiative. And what we've seen in states that have increased access to marijuana is the teen usage rate actually falls. So that's what the more recent studies are showing. It's actually the inverse is true of what they're arguing.

TED SIMONS: When folks say the dangers of marijuana aren't being taken into account, when it's either this measure or medical marijuana is concerned, pick your idea, you say...

STEVE WHITE: I say the opposite is true. When you really look at this initiative, when you look at the facts, what you find out in other states with the liberalization of these laws and the increased liberty to Arizona citizens, what you're more likely to find is decreased costs on things like enforcement, decreased costs of healthcare because you aren't going to have the overdoses that you were seeing before. So I think the opposite is actually true. At least that's what the facts are saying.

TED SIMONS: I was going to say where are those facts and figures?

STEVE WHITE: Those are studies done throughout the United States thus far. We're starting to see a lot of studies tracking how effective marijuana laws have been throughout the United States and that's what they're showing.

TED SIMONS: Last question. Your organization is called the committee to regulate marijuana like alcohol. There are those who say that alcohol is a big enough problem as it is, why would you want to add marijuana to it?

STEVE WHITE: Well alcohol can be a problem. But there is some inconsistency in those regulations. What those people are not saying to you, though, is prohibition of alcohol worked. Most people would tell you that prohibition of marijuana is not working. It's been more effective to tax and regulate alcohol rather than prohibit it. The same is true of cannabis.

TED SIMONS: Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

STEVE WHITE: Thank you for having me.

Steve White of The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

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