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Vermont could gain as much as $11 million in tax revenue from legalized marijuana, according to an analysis performed by NerdWallet, a website that compares financial data for consumers.
The nation as a whole could realize $3 billion in state and local taxes per year if it legalized pot, according to NerdWallet.
The marijuana market in Vermont is worth approximately $54 million annually, NerdWallet estimated.
The study is based on a formula that multiplies the number of pot smokers per state times the state and local sales tax, plus an excise tax states could impose on the drug, if it were legalized.
Colorado and Washington are the only states to have legalized marijuana for recreational use, although in Vermont, 22 other states and the District of Columbia it is legal for specified medical purposes.
A bill to legalize marijuana in Vermont could come before the legislature in January. Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, introduced a legalization bill last session and has indicated that he will do so again in 2015.
A bill was passed last session to authorize a study, due in January, about potential revenue from legalizing, and taxing, marijuana.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit research firm Rand Corp. is performing that study, which will also look at potential effects on public health and safety, as well as costs associated with legalizing and the experience of other states.
The Rand study will cost $120,000, a combination of $20,000 in taxpayer dollars and $100,000 from the philanthropic organization Good Ventures.
NerdWallet analyst Divya Raghavan performed the research for NerdWallet. Her analysis is based on two key figures: the worth of the underground marijuana industry nationwide and the number of pot smokers per state.
Because marijuana is bought and sold illegally in most states, it is difficult to estimate the industry’s worth. NerdWallet used research by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron, who pegged the national marijuana industry at $14 billion a year.
NerdWallet then used data from the federal government about the number of people age 26 or older who smoked marijuana in the past month (based on studies from 2011 and 2012,) to calculate the percentage of the nationwide market that each state represents.
Vermont constitutes 0.39 percent of the national marijuana market, according to NerdWallet. California makes up the largest share, 16 percent, and North Dakota represents the smallest, 0.13 percent.
NerdWallet then multiplied each state’s market share times the combined state and local sales tax rates and added a 15 percent excise tax, as Colorado has done.
The study estimated Colorado, which legalized sales in January, would collect $78 million annually in marijuana tax revenue.
A 2012 study pegged total revenue and savings in Colorado prior to 2017 at $60 million.
Colorado’s legislative attorneys this month estimated revenue will be $47.7 million, based on the first seven months of tax collections.
Colorado had collected about $30 million through June.
Vermont has the fourth-highest percentage of people 26 years or older who report having smoked pot in the past month, behind Alaska, Oregon and Rhode Island, according to the analysis.
Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding Monday pointed out that even if the state legalizes marijuana next year, it would not realize tax revenue the same year.
Spaulding also cautioned against viewing legalized marijuana as simply a moneymaker.
“It’s not just a question of how much you get in taxes, it’s also what it’s going to cost to run such a system,” he said.
Spaulding said he is waiting for the results of the Rand study to form an opinion on how legalization would affect Vermont.
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