Where does marijuana tax money go?

In Vancouver, some to the police department

By Will Campbell

The Columbian

Vancouver Assistant Police Chief Mike Lester once used to enforce the laws against marijuana, but now his paycheck is partially funded by it.

“It’s a little ironic at times,” Lester said. “That’s just the way it is.”

All the money Vancouver receives from marijuana tax goes to police. That answers our latest question posed using Clark Asks.

Kay Olsen wondered: “What happens to the tax money that is generated in Clark County from marijuana sales? Could be put to good use for roads, homeless etc.”

Washington expects to receive $730.4 million in pot taxes between 2017 and 2019. A little more than 4 percent of that — $30 million — goes to local governments, including Vancouver and Battle Ground, the only two local jurisdictions that allow its sale.

The other 96 percent of the state tax money goes toward health care services and Washington’s share of Medicaid. It also balances the state budget, funds marijuana education and substance abuse programs, pays for the Liquor and Cannabis Board, and is used for school dropout prevention.

The city of Vancouver receives about $500,000 a year from marijuana sales, which is dumped into a larger budget to strengthen the police department.

And that amount is projected to increase. By 2020, marijuana sales taxes will contribute $2.1 million to Vancouver Police.

Lester, serving his 25th year as a Vancouver police officer, said that before the 2012 vote to legalize the drug, he treated it like any other controlled substance. But he enforces the laws that voters approve.

“As laws change, we’ve had to adapt,” said Lester, 52.

In January, the city council decided to give an additional $5.1 million to police in 2017.

So the tax money from marijuana sales is a sliver of that fund — about 10 percent. The rest comes from grants, rent receipts and utility taxes.

The police department is going to spend the money on 61 sworn officers and civilian workers. The police department is even planning on hiring drug force detectives with that money.

City Councilor Jack Burkman said the increased money for police is an effort to catch up from the 2008 recession.

“As we went into the Great Recession, the city had to trim a lot. We kept falling further and further behind,” Burkman said.

Burkman said the city is also hiring traffic enforcement and traffic accident investigation officers. The lack of traffic cops was only made worse by increasing population. Vancouver’s population grew by about 10,000 in the past six years.

“People want more traffic enforcement,” Burkman said.

In Battle Ground, money from marijuana taxes goes into the city’s general fund, according to city spokeswoman Bonnie Gilberti. Battle Ground received a little more than $13,000 from marijuana taxes last year. Gilberti said a vast majority of the general fund is spent for public safety.

Olsen, 76, who asked our question, said she voted against legalizing marijuana because she was worried about people driving under the influence, addictions and accessibility to youth. She’s not sure how she feels about the city of Vancouver spending the $500,000 in taxes on police. She would rather see the money go toward the homeless or street maintenance.