Lawmakers seek tax on pot that raises revenue but keeps buyers off black market

 In Legalization, Recreational Marijuana

The legislative committee that’s writing the rules for legal recreational marijuana expects to have a bill ready this fall.

Press Herald / BY  / July 12, 2017

AUGUSTA — State lawmakers are debating how much they can tax recreational marijuana without driving consumers back to the black market.

On Wednesday, the lawmakers charged with crafting Maine’s marijuana regulatory system struggled to find that “sweet spot” of taxing enough to pay for the cost of enforcing the law and some drug prevention, and hopefully making the state at least some money, but not taxing it so much that consumers will still buy their marijuana from a street dealer.

“I know we’re interested in raising revenue, of course, but we need to consider our other policy goals, too, including our desire to eliminate the black market,” said Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth. “We want people who have been growing, buying and selling for years in the black market to come into this new regulated market. If the tax is too high, that won’t happen, and the black market will continue.”

Stamping out the black market for marijuana and other drugs may be more important than raising revenue, Ackley said.

But other lawmakers, like Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, a co-chairman of the committee, said Maine needs to be careful not to set low tax rates or adopt regulations, like allowing towns to tax local marijuana businesses, that will encourage marijuana use, even if it helps the state balance its budget. The ballot measure only won by the smallest of margins, some lawmakers noted.

In the legalization ballot measure approved last fall, voters supported a 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana, but most lawmakers seem to dismiss that as too low. Instead, members of the marijuana legalization committee appeared to prefer a combination of sales and excise taxes that would be at least twice as high, or 20 percent, with some wanting to go even higher.

“We are low compared to other states,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, Democratic co-chairman of the special committee. “I’m thinking 25 percent.”

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