ASK JUNEAU: Can marijuana tax revenue be used for education?

Ruth Decker asked "Ask Juneau" where the tax money raised from marijuana sales goes, and whether it could be dedicated to fund education.
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — A KTUU viewer from the northern Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Ruth Decker, wanted to find out whether the marijuana excise tax was applied to any particular expenditure and whether it could be dedicated for education.

The answer came from the state’s tax division director, Ken Alper, a former legislative aide with years of experience in Alaska revenue.

Alper says the marijuana tax is general fund revenue.

Half of the marijuana tax, Alper said, was designated by the 2016 criminal justice reform bill, Senate Bill 91, for a recidivism reduction fund. The fund, shared between the departments of correction, public safety and health and human services, is designed to prevent convicted criminals from violating the law again when they get out of prison.

The other half of the money, Alper said, goes into the undesignated general fund for any government purpose.

And it’s a growing pool of money, he added.

“This is a new industry, it’s growing every month, there’s very much an upward trend on the revenue,” Alper said. “Last month we crossed over the $1 million threshold for the month of January sales, so we’re looking at an annual trend of about $12 million. Our forecast for next year is $18 million of marijuana tax revenue.”

Legislators are looking to designate additional marijuana money to education, but with each earmark, there’s less money for other purposes he said.

In any event, Alper said, the Alaska Constitution has strong prohibitions on dedicating funds. Lawmakers can try to “designate” a path for revenue to go, but future legislators are free to ignore those requests. Permanent Fund income, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, and a few small funds from territorial days that pre-date the constitution are exceptions, Alper said.

So the marijuana tax can’t be “dedicated” to specific expenditures without a constitutional amendment, but can be designated in a law — that future legislatures are free to ignore, he said.

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