A ballot initiative that could legalize marijuana will go before Alaska voters in August, but questions remain -- could regulating the drug cost the state money, or see it turn a profit?
It’s a topic that continues to light up a conversation.
“Each department went through and did an estimate and without having hard data, they did the best they could to support the request for what this either brings in to cost their departments,” said Leslye Langla, special assistant to the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
From the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health and Social Services, eight state agencies estimated the associated costs from implementation to taxing and regulating marijuana.
The estimate came out to be between $3.7 and $7 million.
That information comes from reviewing estimates developed in Washington and Colorado, states that have already legalized the drug.
“They had some good ground work for us to use as reference but their reference material wasn’t based on hard data,” Langla said.
But how much money would the initiative generate for the state? The report didn’t look at that.
“What we know is that passing this initiative would generate more revenue for the state, it would create jobs and provide an economic boost in this state,” said Taylor Bickford, spokesperson for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Alaska.
In Colorado, state officials estimated their 2013 expenditures would be just over $5.6 million -- with state revenue from marijuana taxes at more than $6.6 million.
According to Colorado’s Department of Revenue, the state inhaled more than $2 million in funds in January of this year alone. That has Alaska proponents comparing the Last Frontier's possible windfall with the cost of the war on drugs.
“The state and federal government spends upward to $20 billion a year enforcing the failed policies of marijuana prohibitions -- we think it’s time for a more sensible approach,” Bickford said.
The State of Alaska said its estimate was made before Colorado implemented its legislation, meaning there was no hard data to support that calculation.
“The implementation and the impacts are going to be different for every state but we’re trying to keep our ear to the wall on this and stay tuned to see how other states are handling it,” Langla said.
The state hopes to have an estimate of potential revenue from marijuana excise tax sometime this summer.
If the measure passes on the primary ballot on Aug. 19, Alaska will have a nine-month lead time before the initiative is implemented.