While Education Funding Suffers, Idahoans Send Marijuana Tax Revenues West

We were reading Betsy Russell’s Sunday column in the Idaho Press, lamenting the disconnect between what the voters want and what the Legislature does. In particular, Idahoans want more funding for education, so the Legislature rejected that and gave more tax cuts to the wealthy.

The BSU Public Policy Survey each year asks Idahoans what their priorities are. Education, over and over again, is at the top of the list. Taxes don’t tend to rank high. But, said BSU political scientist Jeffrey Lyons, “We do tend to see, that’s one of the top conversations at the Legislature every year is taxes.”

The Idaho House on Friday passed the latest version of a giant $382.9 million income tax cut bill, HB 380, that largely benefits the wealthy, including removing $162.9 million from the state general fund each year into the future. Lawmakers this year also considered a bill to fund optional full-day kindergarten for every Idaho school district, HB 331, at a cost to the general fund of up to $42.1 million a year. But that bill didn’t advance.

In the last month alone, Idahoans who are flocking to the now nine marijuana shops in Ontario, Oregon contributed $2,000,000 in tax revenue to that city and state. Sales continue to rise. It’s a sure bet that Idahoans will have contributed $25,000,000 in taxes to Oregon by year’s end.

Oregon taxes their marijuana sales at 20 percent. In Washington, the tax is 37 percent. Not as many Idahoans shop in Washington border shops as they do in Ontario, so estimates are harder to come by. But it wouldn’t be wild speculation to bet that Idahoans are going to send at least $42.1 million in marijuana tax revenue to Oregon and Washington this year.

Idaho’s continued marijuana prohibition may have been tenable before becoming surrounded by legalization states. But now half the Idaho population lives within an hour’s drive of legal marijuana shops. Soon, eighty percent will be within a one hour’s drive, as Montana and Nevada begin opening border shops.

Idaho cannot ever hope to stop the traffic in legal marijuana. One-hundred eighty-five thousand adult Idahoans smoke marijuana annually. In 2018, just over 6,000 Idahoans were arrested for marijuana. Ontario sees that many Idahoans visiting in a four day span.

Idahoans send that marijuana tax money out of state and Idahoans bring back that marijuana smoking to Idaho. Then Idahoans spend more tax money on police, courts, jails, and probation officers to catch 1 out of 31 of those Idahoans who smoke pot. It doesn’t stop or even slow down the other 30 Idahoans from bringing marijuana back, but it does devastate the life of that one Idahoan who was arrested, cuffed, fingerprinted, photographed, jailed, cavity searched, bailed, listed in the paper, put on probation, forced to pass urine tests, passed over for certain jobs, and forever labeled as a drug criminal.

Continuing Idaho’s marijuana prohibition makes no sense. It’s a moral policy, not a pragmatic one. It’s not stopping anyone who wants to use marijuana, it’s just draining money from our state that would be better spent on our schools.

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