A state lawmaker has asked Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to show how the state spent marijuana taxes so far, saying she hopes the money funded new initiatives, not just existing ones.
The questions raised by Representative Hannah Kane, a Shrewsbury Republican, coincide with a Boston Globe report this month detailing that since July 2018, none of the $67 million in marijuana excise taxes and fees left over after paying for the cost of regulators has funded any new initiatives or supported many purposes prescribed in state law. Those purposes include public safety and aid for communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.
“My hope is that the funding goes to new programming/ initiatives directly tied to the categories we outlined in the law,” Kane said in an email to the Globe on Monday. She said she especially hoped the money would bolster efforts to address impaired driving and marijuana consumption among teenagers.
State law says the Marijuana Regulation Fund, which consists of the 10.75-percent excise tax on pot plus cannabis fines and fees, must first cover the budget of cannabis regulators. The law says the remainder “shall” be spent on five causes: public health, public safety, municipal police training, illness prevention, and assistance for communities with high marijuana arrest rates.
But none of those causes besides public health has received any marijuana money — and aren’t slated to receive any this year or next year.
Most of the excess funds collected through early January — $45.6 million — were directed to the state’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, records show. A bureau spokeswoman said the money has not funded new programs but rather supported existing ones such as treatment for the uninsured, criminal defendants, and impaired-driving offenders. The pot money has allowed the state to cut in half its general fund allocation to the bureau.
The Baker administration believes that use of the money complies with the law, as the bureau falls under public health.
In a Feb. 18 letter viewed by the Globe, Kane asked Baker’s top budget official for a detailed overview of how the fund has been spent and how the expenditures complied with the law’s intentions.
It appears that the money “has simply been used as an offset for existing uses in the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services,” Kane wrote, “and no new programming has been funded.”
Baker’s administration said it would respond to Kane directly.
Patrick Marvin, an administration spokesman, pointed out that the Legislature has control over the state budget, along with the governor. And the administration also said it has proposed spending significantly on public safety, public health, and criminal justice reform, from other sources of revenue besides marijuana taxes, such as $65 million for re-entry of formerly incarcerated people and jail diversion.
But several state leaders and lawmakers said marijuana taxes should be spent on new initiatives related to legalization.
Leaders of minority communities say they feel the state owes them after racially targeted policing left many in their neighborhoods with criminal records and unemployed. The leaders say the money should fund job training, housing help, and assistance for disadvantaged entrepreneurs and workers to join the nascent cannabis industry.
The Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus members celebrated in 2017 when they secured their communities in the law’s list of marijuana revenue beneficiaries. They knew at the time, though, that they would likely have to fight to receive money because the law was written in vague way that didn’t specify what portion of revenues each purpose should receive, Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, a Boston Democrat, previously said.
In New York, the question of how much Black and Latino communities will benefit from marijuana tax revenues has become one of the main sticking points in the debate over cannabis legalization, according to media reports.
Police chiefs, meanwhile, say they need money to train more officers on detecting stoned driving.
At a Feb. 11 hearing by the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, Kane asked Baker’s budget officials whether the money had funded any new substance abuse programs.
Catharine Hornby, undersecretary at the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, replied that the state has used the money as “interchangeable” with its general fund revenues to support the substance addiction bureau, but the Legislature could change that.
“That would be your choice,” Hornby said. “From our perspective, what matters is that we spend the funds appropriately and we make sure that enough money is going to the various needs, as opposed to specifically which fund it’s coming from.”
Kane said she had envisioned schools benefiting from “net new dollars" to ensure “new programming” for students about the potential harms of cannabis.
Youth advocates have previously told the Globe that many schools are grappling with a rise in marijuana vaping and changing attitudes about pot, but lack the resources to respond in any way besides suspensions, which are linked to higher dropout rates.
Naomi Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.