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Mizeur plan to fund pre-K with pot tax requires high intake

Marylanders would have to smoke a lot of pot in order to pay for full implementation of a preschool education plan proposed by Del. Heather Mizeur.

The Montgomery County Democrat, who is running for her party’s nomination in the 2014 gubernatorial primary, offered a plan Tuesday that would legalize and tax marijuana. The plan proposed earmarking the money raised for a four-phase plan to provide pre-kindergarten education to more than 32,500 3- and 4-year-olds.

“Closing the achievement gap is a priority for me,” Mizeur said.

Under Mizeur’s plan, adults 21 years old or older could purchase up to one ounce per day and would be able to smoke the drug at home. Public use would remain illegal, as would driving under the influence of the drug.

Growing and selling marijuana would be strictly regulated by the state, though adults would be allowed to grow the plants for their own use.

Sales would be subject to a series of taxes, including a $50-per-ounce excise tax assessed on transactions between grower and retailer. The tax would be linked to inflation and subject to review and change every two years. Retail sales of marijuana would also be subject to the state’s 6 percent sales tax and an additional 2 percent excise tax.

Mizeur said the state could expect to generate $122.5 to $157.5 million once marijuana is legalized and taxed in the state.

“These are not back of the envelope projections,” Mizeur said.

Mizeur’s preschool proposal would phase in over four years, with the first and second years costing $74.5 million and $124.4 million respectively. Any surplus from marijuana taxes in those first two years would be set aside in a trust fund to pay for years three and four of the plan. Mizeur, in an interview, stopped short of calling the trust fund a lockbox but vowed that she would spend the money only on preschool education if she were elected governor.

By year three of her plan, the cost to the state would be an estimated $196 million, requiring it to draw between $38.5 and $78.5 million from the trust fund.

In year four, the full cost of Mizeur’s preschool plan would be $279.1 million. After drawing down the remainder of the trust fund, the state would still fall short by $40 million under a best-case scenario assumed in the delegate’s proposal.

In year five, funding the preschool proposal with marijuana taxes would fall short by $121.6 million to $156.6 million, based on the assumptions in the plan.

The Mizeur campaign confirmed the shortfall but maintained that the marijuana taxes would pay for the first three years of the preschool plan.

“Heather will be making many more proposals throughout the campaign. Some will include cost savings, some will include new spending, and some will generate additional revenue,” said Steve Hershkowitz, a Mizeur campaign aide.

Mizeur is not the first gubernatorial candidate to make expansion of preschool education and the closing of the achievement gap part of the campaign.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler, her opponents in the Democratic primary, are also proposing expansion of preschool services to 4-year-olds. Both said they would use revenues from gaming to pay for their plans.

Mizeur was one of a number of Democrats who opposed expanded gaming in the state. Many opponents objected to slot machines and casinos saying poor people, who lack disposable income, would be disproportionately affected.

Democrats and Republicans running for governor were critical of Mizeur’s plan.

“It’s a pipe dream,” said Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel. “There’s not going to be a market. If people are growing their own, no one is going to buy it and there’s not going to be any money.”

Bob Wheelock, a spokesman for Gansler, said the attorney general “recognizes that public sentiment is slowly shifting toward limited, prescribed medicinal use of marijuana and, in some states, even toward decriminalization of marijuana. There does not appear to be a groundswell toward full-scale legalization here in Maryland nor does the attorney general feel that unrestrained legalization would be appropriate.”

Brown’s campaign was not immediately available for comment.

George, and Harford County Executive David Craig, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, questioned legalizing the drug and using it to fund preschool education.

“There’s a fundamental problem with expanding early childhood education based on the legalization and taxation of marijuana,” said Jim Pettit, a Craig campaign spokesman. “It sends a terrible message to young people.”