MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont could reap hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue if it were to legalize marijuana, but only if nearby states didn't also jump on the bandwagon, according to a study released Friday.
The study comes as states across the country increasingly explore the potential budget boost from taxing an underground industry, even while the nascent legal pot business in Colorado and Washington experiences growing pains.
In Vermont, the Rand Corporation found that revenue from marijuana consumers could generate between $20 million and $75 million a year for the state. The larger figure could be reached through what the report calls "marijuana tourism and illicit exports." It also found that nearly 40 times as many marijuana consumers live within 200 miles of Vermont than live in the state.
The preface to the report, which doesn't make a recommendation about whether the state should legalize marijuana, says it's meant to "inform the debate." While it was prepared for Vermont, it says its conclusions could be useful to other states considering marijuana legalization.
Such high revenue is by no means assured, the report said.
"If the federal government intervened to stop such cross-border traffic or if another state in the Northeast decided to legalize marijuana and set lower tax rates, these potential revenues might not materialize," it said.
Vermont allows the use of medical marijuana, and the possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he believes the state will follow Washington and Colorado in legalizing it, but he wants to see how it plays out in other states before easing laws.
"I continue to support moves to legalize marijuana in Vermont but have always said that we have to proceed with rigorous research and preparation before deciding whether to act," Shumlin said. "This report will help us do that."
The price of marijuana in Washington has plunged since the sky-high prices when pot shops opened six months ago, and now growers complain the state isn't properly regulating supply. Regulators in Colorado have capped production to deter weed from spilling into nearby states, but that has meant more demand than supply.
Last spring, the Vermont Legislature passed a law requiring Shumlin's administration to produce a report about the consequences of legalizing marijuana. No proposals to legalize marijuana have been introduced in the Legislature.
After the Friday presentation by the report's authors, portions of it were recounted during a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"It seems to me the big question is do we go forward with this," said Committee Chairwoman Janet Ancel, D-Calais.
She said the question on how to tax it is complicated.
The report provided few hard answers. It said that many questions can't be answered in advance, such as whether easing marijuana laws would increase abuse and how to keep it from minors and out of other states.
"There is no recipe for marijuana legalization," the report said, "nor are there working models of established fully legal marijuana markets."