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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Pot Tax Revenue Estimates Likely Hazy

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Within the next year, marijuana taxes will start arriving in Washington state coffers. But how much money can the state realistically expect to take in from legal, recreational pot sales?

The state’s revenue forecaster recently unveiled his first estimate, but the numbers may be a bit hazy. 

Revenue forecasters like historic models, but since legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana has never been done before, there are no historic models. That’s made Washington’s revenue forecaster Steve Lerch feel, as he says, "a bit reluctant, a bit uncomfortable to forecast.”

But Lerch recently took the plunge. He now officially forecasts Washington can expect to take in $157 million in the next two-year budget cycle.

Pat Oglesby, who runs a think tank in North Carolina that focuses on marijuana taxes, cautions those numbers are bound to change.

“You’ve got so many uncertainties," says Oglesby. "You’ve got what’s going to happen with the medical market? What about bootleggers?”

Even so Oglesby thinks Washington is likely underestimating. He cites Colorado which is predicting $134 million in pot taxes in just one year. Although Oglesby thinks that figure may be a bit high.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."