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Marijuana

Marijuana

PHOENIX -- Arizonans would buy nearly $500 million worth of marijuana a year by 2020 if voters agree in November to allows its use here for recreational purposes, according to a new report.

The study by the staff of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee figures legalization would generate nearly $82 million in taxes when the program is fully implemented. That includes $74 million based on a tax rate of 15 percent of retail costs, with the balance coming from things like licensing dealers and growers.

That puts the the price paid by consumers at the cash register north of $490 million.

Of what's collected, legislative budget staffers say $27.8 million would go to general aid to education, with an identical amount available to help schools pay for full-day kindergarten programs.

The analysis was prepared as backers of the initiative prepare to turn in petitions today  with more than 250,000 signatures to put the issue to voters. Even with a certain percentage likely being disqualified, that should provide a sufficient margin to meet the legally required minimum of 150,642.

Backers of the initiative, funded largely with dollars from the national Marijuana Policy Project, have been touting the financial benefits of legalization. This, however, is the first state-sponsored analysis putting actual numbers behind the claims.

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But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, one of the leaders of the opposition, said none of this should sway voters into approving something he considers bad public policy. Montgomery said it does not take into account additional costs from allowing anyone age 21 and older to use the drug, from additional addiction treatment and increased accidents to lower work productivity.

And even if that were not the case, Montgomery said there's less there than meets the eye.

He called the $27.8 million a year in state aid to schools a "pittance,'' especially compared with the fact that voters just approved Proposition 123 which will generate more than $300 million a year. Put another way, Montgomery said, the money comes out to less than $26 a year per student in public schools.

By comparison, that $82 million estimate of total revenues from legal marijuana sales by 2020 compares to more than $71 million a year generated in taxes on alcoholic beverages in 2015, the most recent numbers available.

Moran figures the state tax would generate another $24.8 million in 2020, with cities and counties getting about $6.5 million of that in revenue sharing. On top of that, the sales taxes imposed by local governments would generate another $14 million.

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