Bring up the topic of taxes at any cocktail party or the nearest water cooler, and the discussion eventually seems to turn to why all of our state’s problems haven’t been solved, yet, with all that tax money coming in from legal cannabis sales.
While it’s true that this new economic sector has brought in big chunks of money — (for fiscal year 2017, $300 million in taxes and license fees was collected)— the bulk of it goes to state agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services to pay for surveying of youth on marijuana use; the University of Washington for public education materials; the Department of Social and Health Services for substance abuse programs; and Washington State University and UW for certain types of research.
Whatever is left is dispersed to counties, agencies and municipalities around the state, including the Spokane Police Department, which hopes to use its annual share to increase investigation and enforcement of marijuana activity.
Capt. Brad Arleth of the SPD said the concept is similar to how the state dispersed liquor funds prior to privatization.
“When the WSLCB (Washington State Liquor Control Board) operated state liquor stores, there was a formula for sales tax revenue sharing to local government, city and county, with the money to be used for law enforcement efforts,” he said.
When recreational marijuana became legal, state law added marijuana to the equation, including collecting tax money for licensing, regulation, and sales.
“The state returns a portion of locally-collected tax receipts to local governments from marijuana sales within their jurisdictions,” said Arleth. “We utilize this money to partially fund a detective position.”
This position was developed in 2017 based on taxes from 2016 cannabis sales. The majority of this detective’s time is spent on illegal cannabis activity.
“The types of cases assigned vary, but would typically focus on illegal manufacturing or possession with intent to deliver,” said Arleth. “The position is part of the Special Investigations Unit, which is a plain-clothes unit, not undercover.”
Arleth says it is common practice to not name Special Investigations Unit officers to the media to help them better blend in with citizens.
He said the detective will be focusing more on larger-scale activity, not common infractions such as smoking or vaping in public places like downtown Spokane.
“Open consumption in public is an infraction that would generally be handled by an officer if they observed it,” Arleth said.
SPD, Downtown Spokane Partnership and Spokane Regional Health District worked together a couple years ago to put together the “Weed to Know” campaign to reduce underage use, so that is not part of the detective’s focus.
However, the detective may be assigned to cases involving other crimes if they are connected to illegal marijuana activity.
The cannabis tax funds the City of Spokane received in 2017 were not enough to completely cover the full salary for a detective’s position.
“He is the primary detective assigned cases of this nature. His caseload is flexible and may involve other cases as necessary,” Arleth said.
Tax dollars from cannabis continue rising annually but there is no word yet if the amount brought in for 2018 will be able to completely cover the detective position in the future.
Arleth says he doesn’t work with the budget at that level, but expects that with the level of sales tax reported by the state, there will be sufficient funds going forward to cover a detective’s wages and benefits.
“The tax revenue goes to the city general fund, and the position is included in the police department budget,” he said. “In other words the money doesn’t come directly from the state to the PD for the position.”
A current officer was promoted to the detective position, which led to the hiring of an additional officer to backfill the open officer spot. Arleth says the department has added a significant number of officers in the past few years from other funding sources as well.