Who Shares In Marijuana Taxes? The Surprising Answer

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Taxes on marijuana are big, and it’s easy to see why. A discussion about legalizing marijuana often segues into one about tax revenues. Marijuana for medical use is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana is legal in DC and in four states, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. More states will be coming.

In the meantime, cannabis—even for medical use—remains illegal under federal law. That leads to numerous legal woes for operations that are legal under state law. One sweet spot among legislators is tax revenue. It is a boon for the states. It could be a boon for the feds too.

The proposed Marijuana Tax Equity Act (H.R. 501), if passed, would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed. Growers, sellers and users would not to fear violating federal law. But dealing with taxes would be another story.The bill would impose an excise tax of 50% on cannabis sales and an annual occupational tax on workers in the field of legal marijuana.

Even if passed, one wonders if such high taxes could be collected. In the meantime, Colorado has trumpeted its tax revenues, though perhaps prematurely. It turned out that the $33.5 million Colorado projected to collect in the first six months of 2014 was too optimistic. When the smoke cleared, Colorado was missing $21.5 million in pot taxes! Yet the math isn’t difficult.

Feds Propose Taxing Marijuana, True Cash Crop

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  With all the upheaval in Washington, it isn’t likely that federal proposals to tax marijuana will pass anytime soon. Yet as Professor Paul Caron catalogs, economists are looking anew at the proposed Marijuana Tax Equity Act (H.R. 501). It would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed. Growers, sellers and users would not to fear violating federal law. But dealing with taxes would be another story.

The bill would impose an excise tax of 50% on cannabis sales and an annual occupational tax on workers in the growing field of legal marijuana. Is that a good trade-off? Federal Proposals to Tax Marijuana: An Economic Analysis by Jane G. Gravelle & Sean Lowry focuses on potential federal marijuana taxes. The authors present justifications for taxes and they estimate levels of tax. They consider possible marijuana tax designs, as well as tax administration and enforcement issues such as labeling and tracking.

Of course, statistics can be deceptive. When Colorado legalized recreational use, it trumpeted the tax revenue it knew would be piling in. There’s a 2.9% sales tax and a 10% marijuana sales tax. Plus, there is a 15% excise tax on the average market rate of retail marijuana. If you add them up, it’s 27.9%.