HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says he knows where the state could find money to help close its budget gap: Allow — and tax — recreational use of marijuana.
At a Capitol news conference Monday, DePasqule said he estimates Pennsylvania could bring in $200 million a year by regulating and taxing marijuana. That projection is based on the model of marijuana regulation used in Colorado, which DePasquale said generated $129 million in a year from a population smaller than that of Pennsylvania.
"I wasn't necessarily convinced Pennsylvania should be the first, but now that we have actual results and data from other states, the evidence is clear that this can be both good socially and fiscally," DePasquale said.
In 2016, taxing marijuana brought in $220 million in Washington, $129 million in Colorado, and $65.4 million in Oregon, according to DePasquale's office.
Pennsylvania has a budget shortfall projected at nearly $3 billion over this year and the next. In February, Gov. Wolf proposed closing that gap through a combination of spending reductions and new taxes.
The auditor general, who serves as the state's fiscal watchdog, said that taxing marijuana use is one of a number of suggestions he expects to make about how the state can close the gap .
DePasquale acknowledged without prompting that there may be reason to doubt that Pennsylvania will legalize recreational marijuana anytime soon. The state authorized medical marijuana in April 2016, and that program is not expected to be fully in place until 2018.
"We don't even have the medical cannabis program up and running yet, so it's clearly a little premature to jump to the next step," House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said.
"While we're appreciative of the auditor general's multiple policy thoughts, as Pennsylvania and the nation is facing a serious drug problem, I'm not sure that legalizing a Schedule I narcotic is the best response."
"It is an entirely fair and appropriate question to say: Can this even happen in Pennsylvania?" he said.
But he noted that a little more than a decade ago, people might not have expected that gay couples would now be allowed to marry and that medical marijuana would have been overwhelmingly approved.