Monday, April 26, 2010

Marijuana tax: pot of gold for cities and towns?

Marijuana may turn a new shade of green if Sen. Robert J. Kane has his
way: He sees the illegal substance as a potential pot of tax money for
Connecticut's municipalities.

"This is easy money," said Kane, R-Watertown, who wants to allow towns
to collect a tax on marijuana and other controlled substances seized by
police officers.

Kane is touting the proposal as a revenue-generator for cash-strapped
towns, and at least one municipal organization is ready to sign on. But
that's why Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven and co-chairman of the
Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said he plans to let the bill

"Do we really want to link law enforcement to the fiscal health of our
towns? I am not comfortable letting money potentially drive police
department decisions," he said.

Connecticut State Police last fiscal year seized nearly 1,400 kilograms
of marijuana, which could have translated to $4.8 million in tax revenue
at the $3.50 per gram tax rate.

And the $4.8 million estimate does not include the currently uncounted
amount of marijuana seized by the more than 100 town police departments,
said Sgt. Shawn Corey, spokesman for the state police.

The bill also allows for a tax on other illegal substances - ranging
from $200 to $2,000.

The tax is enticing to the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, whose 139
towns would benefit significantly.

"Every penny counts," said Bart Russell, COST's executive director.

The state's Department of Revenue Services already has the authority to
tax marijuana seized from drug dealers, which is just a portion of the
total 1,400 kilograms collected by state police. Two years ago, the most
recent estimate available, the state collected just $60,000.

Kane says the state's failure to cash in on the tax has resulted in
millions of dollars going up in smoke.

"So why not allow towns to enforce the already-existing tax?" he said.

And while they're at it, Kane said the tax should not only be for a drug
dealer's stash, but also on those found in possession of illegal
substances. That means all 1,400 kilograms seized by state police would
be taxable, not just a small portion proven to come from drug dealers.

"Police are doing the arrests anyway, we might as well tax it."

Instead, local police officers are flushing these narcotics down the
toilets, said Lt. William Gyler of Farmington Police Department.

"I am not aware of a single [police] office in the state that fills out
the paperwork for this tax," he said. "It's a rather cumbersome

And Gyler admits there's little for his office or town to gain from the
extra work.

Kane says his bill creates the monetary incentive needed for police
offices to fill out the extra paperwork.

But for Staples, the small fiscal relief for towns is just not worth the
tradeoff of creating an incentive to make marijuana arrests.

"It would empower municipalities to increase enforcement," Staples said.
"So many states are working towards decriminalizing marijuana. I believe
this is doing the exact opposite."

Several proposals have been made in Connecticut to both decriminalize
and permit the use of medical marijuana, none of which has made it out
of committee this legislative session.

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