Arizona: Marijuana Legalization Backers Outraged By Erroneous Op-Ed On Tax Revenue
By Steve Elliott
Backers of a plan to legalize marijuana in Arizona are outraged over an unsigned editorial in the Arizona Republic published on August 21 using inaccurate tax revenue figures to back its claim that campaign leaders are lying.
The op-ed was responding to a claim made by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's message from August 19 at the state Capitol that its planned November 2016 ballot measure, if passed, could bring in $40 million or more annually to Arizona public schools.
The measure in question would create a system of retail cannabis stores where adults 21 and older would pay a 15 percent tax on marijuana sales. After taking the money needed to run a new bureaucracy to oversee that system, 80 percent of the remaining tax revenue would go to funding kindgartens and public schools.
The unsigned editorial claims the legalization campaign's figure is a "lie," suggesting that backers of the measure might be so high on weed that they'd try to deposit the fake check they used for a prop.
The $40 million is "belied" by Colorado's experience with legalization, the original version of the Republic's op-ed claimed: "The Colorado initiative that legalized pot, for instance, promises the first $40 million each year will help pay for school construction. The tax generated $13.3 million last year, and might -- might -- reach $20 million this year."
That amount is a "pittance" and not worth "the dangers of making pot more available to children," the hysterical editorial claimed. The writer further claimed that the Arizona campaign's $40 million estimate is "outlandish" and even "fake."
"Where the [Republic] article got it wrong was when it said the excise tax might generate $20 million this year," said Tommy Moore, speaking for the Colorado Department of Revenue's Marijuana Enforcement & Taxation department. "So far, the excise tax has generated over $16 million as of June 2015."
At this pace, it is on target to surpass $30 million for 2015, but revenue collections have doubled since this tame last year. If the rate of revenue keeps going up, Colorado schools may indeed get $40 million, or close to it, this year.
"If the AZ Republic's editorial board had any integrity, [members] would have asked for the data to support our estimates," says J.P. Holyoak, chair of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "I offered our data, and they didn't even respond. Clearly, they aren't interested in anything that resembles honest journalism."
"The true facts speak for themselves," says Barrett Marson, spokesman for the campaign. "The backers of the Colorado initiative were pretty much on target. Our revenue projections are conservative estimates."
Arizona Republic editorial page editor Phil Boas on Friday left a message for New Times admitting the error had been made, adding that a correction would be published.
The correction, now visible at the top of the opinion article, addresses the incorrect Colorado tax number it gave for 2015: "A previous version of this editorial misstated how much revenue Colorado's legal pot initiative generated."
"Even corrected, the column misses the point," Stern writes for New Times. "Legal marijuana means tens of millions of dollars would pour into state coffers simply by taxing people on something they're already buying on the black market.
Photo: Ray Stern/Phoenix New Times