Pot Tax Revenue Estimates: Low Or High?

Feb 21, 2014

Washington is about to get a new stream of revenue into its coffers – from marijuana taxes.

How much money can the state realistically expect to take in from legal, recreational pot sales?

Revenue forecasters recently unveiled their first estimate. But a national tax expert cautious the numbers may be a bit hazy.

Washington expects to inhale $51.2 million in marijuana tax revenue in the next two year budget cycle. That’s a pretty precise number.

Pat Oglesby isn’t holding his breath. He’s a former top U.S. Senate staffer who now runs the Center for New Revenue, a North Carolina think tank that has a particular focus on marijuana taxes.

"You’ve got so many uncertainties," Oglesby  says. "What’s going to happen with the medical market? What about bootleggers?"

Oglesby is no naysayer. But he cautions budget writers to hold off running to the bank until some real dollars emerge from those clouds of pot smoke.

"They’re just so many imponderables we’re really just at the beginning of figuring this out," he says.

Washington’s voter-approved marijuana law directs 40 percent of the tax receipts to state and local governments for unrestricted uses. The rest is earmarked for public health care and substance-abuse prevention.

Oglesby thinks Washington might actually be underestimating pot revenue while Colorado, the other state to legalize pot, might be, well, a bit high.

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