(Corrected, 2:49 p.m.)
WASHINGTON – Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper has a firm answer to other U.S. governors asking him about marijuana as source of revenue: Just say no.
Hickenlooper said yesterday that about a half-dozen called or asked him at this weekend’s National Governors Association meeting in Washington about his state’s experience legalizing recreational pot. They want to know about the potential to collect money and avoid the costs of enforcement and incarceration, he said.
Colorado projected last week that sales would generate more than $100 million a year toward a general fund of about $9 billion. But Hickenlooper, who opposed legalizing marijuana, said he’s telling fellow governors that he’s not counting on it to lower other taxes or for spending - and that they shouldn’t, either.
“It’s not a panacea,” Hickenlooper, 62, said in an interview. “It’s not going to solve your revenue problems.”
The movement to bring pot out of the shadows and onto the tax rolls reflects its steady presence in U.S. life. Thirty-eight percent of Americans acknowledge having tried marijuana, compared with 33 percent in 1985, according to a Gallup poll conducted in July. With its widespread familiarity, and with prisons and jails strained by large populations of nonviolent criminals, above-board pot presents possibilities.
Colorado’s numbers “opened a lot of eyes,” Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, a Democrat, said in an interview. He said Colorado’s fiscal forecast fostered a discussion about whether to “regulate it and tax it in these tough times.”
Chafee, who previously served as a Republican U.S. senator, said the ill effects of the long-running fight against drugs should hasten discussion about new approaches worldwide. He said legalization measures have been proposed in Rhode Island and didn’t rule out signing one.
“We’ll see how these bills come out of the legislature,” he said.
Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational pot use after voters approved it in 2012. Sales in Colorado started Jan. 1 for those 21 and older, and Washington retailers are expected to start this year.