Marijuana Money: How the state is spending its cannabis cash
It is safe to say recreational marijuana is pretty much everywhere in Alaska. Pot is now a multi-million dollar industry in Alaska and the numbers continue to climb.
The drug was first legalized in 2014. Then, two years ago the first gram was sold at Herbal Outfitters in Valdez. There are now more than 70 active and operating marijuana retail stores in Alaska, about two dozen of those in Anchorage, according to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office website.
Marijuana cultivators are taxed $50 per ounce of bud and $15 per ounce for all other parts of the plant.
Since its inception, the Department of Revenue says the state has collected over $19 million in marijuana tax and more than 34,000 pounds — about 17 tons — of pot has been taxed.
When compared to the state's entire tax picture, marijuana makes up just a sliver of the $1 billion the Department of Revenue says it collected in fiscal year 2017.
Still, the just over $6 million collected in the first four months of the current fiscal year is a lot of money. It can be spent pretty quickly when its divided up.
Where the money goes
The largest chunk, 50 percent, is split between the departments of public safety, health and social services, and corrections toward efforts to keep people out of prison.
DPS is using some of the money to fight domestic violence.
DOC spokesperson Megan Edge says the department is spending its share on a multitude of initiatives: substance abuse treatment, new programs like the wellness recovery action plan, as well as adding more councilors and clinicians.
Alysa Wooden, program coordinator with the Division of Behavioral Health says DHSS is putting the tax revenue toward community programs aimed at helping people find employment and housing once released.
"These are voluntary services so we are able to really connect with people who are ready to change and self-sufficiency," Wooden said. "The goal is to provide transitional services so individuals can be self-sufficient and stay in our communities and be great neighbors."
The rest of Alaska's marijuana tax revenue is then divided in two.
Twenty-five percent goes to the general fund to pay for state services and 25 percent goes to the newly formed marijuana education fund.
Public health specialist Eliza Muse is in charge of the education fun. While numbers from DHSS show that more adults are using marijuana, the newest youth survey in the state found that 22 percent of traditional high school students have used marijuana in the past 30 days.
Muse hopes to get those numbers down by spending money on after-school programs, educational campaigns and resources to study the impacts of the drug on Alaskans.
"If you look at current marijuana use, compared to tobacco use or alcohol use, the picture tells a different story," Muse said. "We are seeing alcohol use and tobacco use rates go down. Marijuana use is remaining relatively stable."
She says the marijuana education fund received its first deposit from marijuana revenue Dec. 1. To start, Muse only plans to spend about one-third of the money, to allow the fund to grow with Alaska's budding marijuana industry.
The state will soon receive even more revenue from marijuana growers. In January 2019, marijuana tax regulations will include a $25 flat fee on cultivators for plants containing seeds that didn't mature or that failed testing because of mold. Clones will be taxed at a dollar per plant, and not by weight, according to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.
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