In a heavily attended Spokane City Council forum about homelessness in late September, James Earl, a self-described avid cannabis smoker in an Eastern Washington University sweatshirt, walks up to the podium and proposes his idea, having to do with the tax revenue raised from pot sales.
"I feel we are not utilizing that pot of money," Earl says. "We've got homeless."
To Earl, it's clear that the city of Spokane should be getting more of the money he spends on weed.
"I do cannabis. I do a good amount, [enough] that I should see a visual improvement in Spokane," Earl says. "If you know what I mean by that."
While the audience laughs, City Council President Ben Stuckart responds seriously to Earl's complaints. Marijuana revenue in the county continues to skyrocket, but we're not seeing the returns.
"We've got a lot of work to do with the state," Stuckart says. "They actually cut the city's marijuana revenue and the percentage we get. Even though sales are going up, we're getting less dollars this year than we did last year."
This year, local governments statewide were anticipating a big bump in revenue from the thriving industry — expecting the amount to raise from $6 million to $15 million a year. That had been the agreement.
But as the Washington State Legislature struggled to hammer out a budget that would properly fund basic education — and with a government shutdown approaching rapidly — the legislature quietly reneged on the plan.
Local governments would continue to only receive $6 million a year, as the rest of the legal weed money was funneled into the general fund.
And because of the way that legal weed money is divided up between different cities and counties, depending on their population and the size of their marijuana industry, some municipalities will see their take continue to fall.
"It doesn't even pay for one full-time police officer we use," Stuckart says. "The state likes to say they're taxing this and sharing it with everybody. But they fill their pockets with those tax dollars, and don't [send] it down."
As Stuckart reminds the crowd, that can be changed.
"If you see our state legislators, you tell them we want the marijuana revenue here," he says. ♦
BY THE NUMBERS
Marijuana tax revenue expected to be generated next year in Washington.
Marijuana revenue money that Washington state cities were originally expecting to receive next year, and the year after that.
Money that's going to Washington state cities instead, after the state decided to keep more of the money.
Total marijuana revenue generated in Spokane County last year.
Total marijuana tax collected in Spokane County last year.
Total tax paid by Green Light, Spokane County's top marijuana retailer.
Number of marijuana retailers in Spokane County.
Number of marijuana processors and producers in Spokane County.
Sources: 502data.com, Yakima Herald