Marijuana tax: pot of gold for cities and towns?

Marijuana may turn a new shade of green if Sen. Robert J. Kane has his way: He sees the illegal substance as a potential pot of tax money for Connecticut’s municipalities.

“This is easy money,” said Kane, R-Watertown, who wants to allow towns to collect a tax on marijuana and other controlled substances seized by police officers.

Kane is touting the proposal as a revenue-generator for cash-strapped towns, and at least one municipal organization is ready to sign on. But that’s why Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven and co-chairman of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said he plans to let the bill die.

“Do we really want to link law enforcement to the fiscal health of our towns? I am not comfortable letting money potentially drive police department decisions,” he said.

Connecticut State Police last fiscal year seized nearly 1,400 kilograms of marijuana, which could have translated to $4.8 million in tax revenue at the $3.50 per gram tax rate.

And the $4.8 million estimate does not include the currently uncounted amount of marijuana seized by the more than 100 town police departments, said Sgt. Shawn Corey, spokesman for the state police.

The bill also allows for a tax on other illegal substances – ranging from $200 to $2,000.

The tax is enticing to the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, whose 139 towns would benefit significantly.

“Every penny counts,” said Bart Russell, COST’s executive director.

The state’s Department of Revenue Services already has the authority to tax marijuana seized from drug dealers, which is just a portion of the total 1,400 kilograms collected by state police. Two years ago, the most recent estimate available, the state collected just $60,000.

Kane says the state’s failure to cash in on the tax has resulted in millions of dollars going up in smoke.

“So why not allow towns to enforce the already-existing tax?” he said.

And while they’re at it, Kane said the tax should not only be for a drug dealer’s stash, but also on those found in possession of illegal substances. That means all 1,400 kilograms seized by state police would be taxable, not just a small portion proven to come from drug dealers.

“Police are doing the arrests anyway, we might as well tax it.”

Instead, local police officers are flushing these narcotics down the toilets, said Lt. William Gyler of Farmington Police Department.

“I am not aware of a single [police] office in the state that fills out the paperwork for this tax,” he said. “It’s a rather cumbersome process.”

And Gyler admits there’s little for his office or town to gain from the extra work.

Kane says his bill creates the monetary incentive needed for police offices to fill out the extra paperwork.

But for Staples, the small fiscal relief for towns is just not worth the tradeoff of creating an incentive to make marijuana arrests.

“It would empower municipalities to increase enforcement,” Staples said. “So many states are working towards decriminalizing marijuana. I believe this is doing the exact opposite.”

Several proposals have been made in Connecticut to both decriminalize and permit the use of medical marijuana, none of which has made it out of committee this legislative session.