Dempsey pitches higher pot tax
Says lower rate means less money for treatment, beds
THE HOUSE’S TOP BUDGET OFFICIAL on Friday made a pitch for a higher tax rate on recreational marijuana during a press conference unveiling the Legislature’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal.
Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the 28 percent tax rate proposed in the House pot bill would bring in enough revenue to steer millions of dollars to substance abuse prevention and treatment. Dempsey said the House proposal would earmark $50 million to substance abuse prevention. (A correction was added to this story setting the correct amount.)
The House’s budget chief, who called the marijuana legislation a “tremendous opportunity” to provide funding for substance abuse, made his comments as lawmakers from the House and Senate resumed their contentious talks on marijuana legislation. The Senate is pushing for a tax rate of up to 12 percent, the same level backed by voters in last November’s referendum. The House favors a tax rate of 28 percent. The Senate bill is silent on money for drug treatment and prevention programs.
“Should we get a lower tax, that’s less money for treatment, less money for beds,” Dempsey said. “It would be a tremendous lost opportunity if we forego the opportunity to tax the new industry at a higher rate.”
Dempsey said a higher tax rate on marijuana is also justified by all the work the state will have to do to implement the legalization of recreational pot.
The Legislature’s budget for fiscal 2018 includes $2 million for the buildup of a state regulatory agency, which is what the Senate recommended but less than the $4 million contained in earlier budget proposals of the House and Gov. Charlie Baker. A spokeswoman for state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg called the funding “insufficient” and pointed out the treasurer asked for $10 million for the first year but Dempsey said it’s plenty to seed the start-up.“We believe it’s at least a good starting point,” Dempsey said of the $2 million appropriation. “It’s enough to get things moving in the right direction.”
One advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana said the appropriation is pitifully low. “The cost of licensing and tracking software alone, which must be in place before applications can be processed, is estimated at $5.5 million,” said Jim Borghesani, the communications director for the campaign last fall to legalize adult sale and use of pot.