Lawmakers from around the country attended a discussion Wednesday to learn from Washington on how best to think about legalized marijuana. But even the experts don’t have all the answers yet.
Lawmakers and others from around the country attended a discussion Wednesday to learn from Washington and Coloradohow best to think about legal marijuana and regulate it.
But even the experts in the pioneering states don’t have all the answers yet, with questions still percolating on how much tax revenue marijuana can generate, and how best to regulate and enforce the use of the substance.
Speaking before several hundred people at a panel during a convention of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, cautioned that Washington state should be careful not to be too optimistic about marijuana-tax revenue.
Democrats this spring questioned whether the state will reap all the marijuana-tax revenue expected to materialize through 2019 — about $1.1 billion.
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Depending on that much revenue is “going to come back to haunt us,” Kohl-Welles predicted.
About 5,000 state lawmakers, legislative staffers and others were expected in Seattle this week for the annual conference of the NCSL, a bipartisan public-policy organization. The number included more than 70 Washington legislators.
Recreational-pot sales in Washington hit $45.9 million for June, and $57.1 million for July, according to state data.
States looking at marijuana to bring in lots of tax revenue should think twice, said panel member Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation, a pro-business-policy think tank.
“It’s resulted in additional revenue,” said Henchman, a vice president of the foundation, but not enough to rewrite state budgets.
The remarks came at a panel called “Legalizing Marijuana: Potholes and Possibilities” at the gathering at the Washington State Convention Center.
The panel included lawmakers from Washington and Colorado, as well as policy analysts, law-enforcement officials and attorneys. Panel members also spoke to the difficulties of measuring the impact of THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, which would help enforce laws like driving under the influence.
Kohl-Welles also questioned provisions in new recreational-marijuana reforms that ban public clubs for consuming marijuana — and making it a felony.
But Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, also on the panel, said there isn’t yet enough research on how long people are impaired after using pot.
“We have determined the science in alcohol and so have a fairly uniform breathalyzer,” she said.
Rivers cited a law she and Kohl-Welles helped develop allowing marijuana research, and said work is being done on a THC breathalyzer.
But for now, “I think it’s best to sit tight and err on the side of safety,” she added.
Washington lawmakers attended the NCSL conference free of charge, with 40 of the registrations paid by the Legislature at $549 each. The remainder of the registrations for Washington legislators were waived by NCSL, according to Andrew McVicar of the NCSL Host State Committee.
More than $1.4 million was raised by the Legislature from private donors to help host the event, according to McVicar. That included contributions by Amazon, Microsoft and the Washington Wine Institute.
The presentations and panels delved into all sorts of government minutiae, from recycling, to drones, to police-worn body cameras, state debt and budgeting.
In an exhibit hall, lobbying organizations — ranging from Wells Fargo and the Human Rights Campaign, to AARP and the American Association for Nude Recreation — had display booths set up.
There were social events like one Monday night to sample Washington wines. For Wednesday night, the NCSL reserved the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. On Thursday morning, lawmakers were to ride bikes together through Seattle.
Even at a conference, some legislators were taking votes. The NCSL has national committees composed of lawmakers from around the country who vote on nonbinding statements regarding issues of the day.
Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip and member of the NCSL’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee, described one vote Tuesday as “a resolution to tell the federal government to gut the Clean Water Act.”
But, “We were successful in beating that back,” said McCoy.
Information in this article, originally published Aug. 5, 2015, was corrected Aug. 6, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated sales figures for recreational marijuana for June and July because of incomplete data on the state’s website.