June 19, 2017
Paging Grover Norquist: Antitax anxiety has broken out on Beacon Hill, with some Democratic lawmakers suddenly professing concern about raising taxes on recreational marijuana as part of a needed set of reforms to the state’s new pot law. A proposal to levy a 28 percent tax on marijuana sales sparked an uproar, and House leaders suddenly yanked their version of the bill on Wednesday for further refinement, shortly before a scheduled vote. In the Senate, legislation was introduced Friday that left the tax at 12 percent, one of the lowest rates in any state that has legalized pot.
But marijuana should be taxed, good and hard. The possibility of new revenue was one of the selling points of Question 4, the successful ballot question that legalized marijuana last year. The 28 percent figure isn’t a magic number. But however legislators adjust the rate as they forge consensus on the marijuana legislation, they needn’t give too much ground to the weed industry now. Once the legal market is up and running, raising the tax will become far more difficult and an opportunity to bolster state and municipal finances will have passed.
“You’d rather start high and have to come down,” said Mark J. Cusack, the House chair of the legislative Marijuana Policy Committee, who supports the 28 percent tax. From a political standpoint, he’s undoubtedly right. As Cusack points out, there’s also a sound public policy reason to raise the tax in the way the House legislation would. The proposal would raise the component of the marijuana tax earmarked for the host town or city from 2 percent to 5 percent, a boost that is designed to incentivize municipalities to allow marijuana retail so that retailers don’t cluster in poorer communities.