Baker Administration Suggests Cuts to School Funding, Local Aid if Pot’s Legalized

Yes on 4 says the state would have 'more than enough' money to regulate the cannabis industry.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

Speaking to municipal officials Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito suggested that state government would cut funding for schools and local aid if voters legalize recreational marijuana this fall.

“We’re very concerned about the regulatory costs that would take away funds from needed services, in particular schools and local aid, if that were the case,” Polito told the Local Government Advisory Commission, as reported by the State House News Service.

If passed, Question 4 on November’s ballot would lift the ban on recreational pot four years after voters legalized medical marijuana, and eight years after possession of small amounts were decriminalized. Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have all expressed their opposition to legalization, while a WBUR poll released Tuesday shows Massachusetts voters favoring the ballot measure 50-45.

“The costs to our first responders, our medical system, and our cities and towns must be factored in when we speculate about the potential increase in tax revenues from legalizing marijuana,” read a March 4 Globe op-ed, co-authored by Baker, Healey, and Walsh. “In Colorado, marijuana sales taxes account for just a fraction of one percent of total state revenues. Here in Massachusetts, we face the possibility that any new revenue would be vastly insufficient to cover the cost of ambulance rides, emergency room visits, and treatment.”

Question 4 would also establish a regulatory body called the Cannabis Control Commission, tasked with issuing licenses to prospective vendors. Possession would be limited to 10 ounces in the home, one ounce in public, and six marijuana plants. Retail cannabis would be subject to the state sales tax, which goes toward the General Fund, along with a 3.75-percent excise tax and an optional two-percent tax at the discretion of local municipalities.

Revenue from the excise and local taxes, along with application fees and fines imposed on violators, would be placed into a Marijuana Regulation Fund to help cover the administrative costs of regulating the new industry. But it won’t go nearly far enough, the Baker administration argues.

“The governor and lieutenant governor are proud to join a bipartisan group of statewide leaders opposing the proliferation of marijuana in part because evidence from Colorado shows that the costs to the state could very well outweigh the additional tax revenue from the sale of the drug,” says Baker spokesperson Billy Pittman, “and with current revenue projections below expectations in Massachusetts, these costs would come at the expense of other vital state services such as education and local aid.”

Yet Will Luzier, campaign manager for Yes on 4, remains unconvinced, noting that the state Alcohol Beverages Control Commission regulates the entire alcohol beverage industry on a budget of roughly $6 million. The cannabis industry is projected to generate $33 million from excise tax revenue alone—”a lot of money for a regulatory commission,” Luzier says.

“Bottom line is, there’s going to be more than enough money to cover the cost of regulation,” he says. “Any excess that the Cannabis Control Commission doesn’t use goes back into the General Fund. We believe that there’s an excess of money to fund this regulatory framework.”

If enacted, legalization would go into effect this December.