COMMENTARY: Legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana in Delaware

Let us discuss whether marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed (“LR&T”) similarly to alcohol for adults 21 and older. Excise tax revenue alone is conservatively estimated to generate $21.5 million annually. Additionally, millions of dollars would be generated each year in corporate and personal income and payroll taxes. Hundreds of jobs would be created in construction, security, legal, accounting, agriculture, inspection, regulation, retail and other fields. As we continue to lose large employers and struggle with our state budget, we need to look at alternative revenue sources while we continue to eliminate wasteful spending.

The arguments in support of LR&T of recreational marijuana are well articulated in a 2014 article published by the Marijuana Policy Project (“MPP”). The MPP argues that prohibition of alcohol did not work, and neither does the prohibition of marijuana. The enforcement of marijuana laws affects African Americans disproportionately, as they are three times more likely to be prosecuted for marijuana possession than Caucasians.

Legalizing marijuana would allow law enforcement and the criminal justice system to direct their resources towards violent and other more-serious drug crimes, like the opiate and amphetamine drug trade. Marijuana has proven to be less toxic, less addictive and less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. The addictiveness of marijuana is about the same as caffeinated coffee.

Marijuana is not the gateway drug that some would have you believe. The health care costs associated with marijuana pale by comparison to the health care cost associated with tobacco and alcohol. LR&T of small quantities of recreational marijuana has not been shown to increase teen usage. Alcohol is linked to violent and aggressive behavior, whereas marijuana is not. The facts show that a state can achieve benefits from a strong marijuana regulatory framework.

If marijuana were LR&T in Delaware, there are a number of collateral issues that must be addressed. For starters, employers should remain free to regulate marijuana use in the workforce. Additionally, smoking marijuana in public or in a vehicle should be prohibited.

Also, Delaware should consider legislation to change its DUI laws to establish a rebuttable presumption of impairment if the blood level of five nanograms per milliliter of THC or less is found in the driver’s blood system.

Levy Court Commissioner Bradley Eaby

Bradley Eaby

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, Solutions For Delaware Schools, Volume 1 (May 2016), has recommended district boundary changes to the Christina, Red Clay, Colonial and Brandywine school districts.

This will cost money. Additionally, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (“WEIC”) recommendations include increased funding for all Delaware public school districts to support schools with high percentages of low-income students (35 percent statewide), English-language learners (6 percent statewide) and other at-risk students (14 percent statewide).

Funding is also sought for high-quality early childhood programs for children in poverty. Where will this money come from? I am deeply concerned that the WEIC recommendations will not be realized due to the lack of funding.

However, I do see a path forward. Rather than increase personal or corporate income taxes or real-property taxes, Delaware could capture revenue from an untaxed, unregulated and underground market. Delaware’s top personal income tax rate is 6.6 percent and our top individual tax bracket is $60,000, which ranks Delaware as having the 16th-highest personal income tax rate out of 34 similar states.

In 2013, Delaware’s per capita tax rate was $4,029.17, which is higher than the per capita tax rate of either Maryland, New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. It would behoove Delaware to LR&T marijuana.

We can look at the experience of other states that have LR&T marijuana. The State of Colorado has released its 11-month 2015-2016 FY report which shows the income derived from the sale of recreational and medicinal marijuana through taxes, licenses and fees totals $156.7 million. Of that amount, $42.6 million will be distributed to Colorado’s Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund.

The state of Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, effective 2014, and the Tax Foundation published Fiscal Fact No. 509 (May 2016) and estimates Washington’s tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana at $270 million per year. I am not suggesting Delaware’s excise tax income would be in that range, as the population of the State of Washington is seven times larger than Delaware’s population.

How much annual revenue would Delaware generate in excise taxes if it were to LR&T marijuana? The MPP conservatively estimates $21.5 million in excise taxes alone.

This estimate is in line with other Delaware excise tax revenue. Delaware’s 2014 excise tax revenue from alcohol was approximately $19.6 million and excise tax revenue from tobacco products was approximately $114.6 million.

It is time for us to engage in an earnest discussion about LR&T recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years of age and older. An adult who chooses to smoke marijuana in the privacy of their own home and not in the presence of a minor child should not be criminally prosecuted.

The vast majority of adults can drink responsibly, take their prescription medications responsibly and can use recreational marijuana responsibly. I do not promote the use of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, but I do believe it is a personal choice for an adult to make.

I believe the excise tax revenue should be earmarked to be used for education initiatives, opiate addiction treatment and law enforcement.

In my humble opinion, if Delaware were to LR&T recreational marijuana, we could fund our educational goals, provide much needed addiction treatment, reduce crime and avoid raising taxes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bradley S. “Brad” Eaby, of Dover, is an incumbent Kent County Levy Court commissioner for District 2 and one of six candidates in the Democratic primary for nomination for lieutenant governor of Delaware.

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