Elrich Says Legalizing Marijuana Could Mean Education Money

Elrich Says Legalizing Marijuana Could Mean Education Money

Kirwan Commission calls for $4 billion increase for schools

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William Kirwan speaks at a forum on Wednesday in Silver Spring.

Caitlynn Peetz

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich this week said the state should legalize and control the sale of marijuana to help fund recommendations, totaling $4 billion annually, to improve public education in Maryland.

Elrich made his proposal during a forum at Montgomery Blair High School on Tuesday. Local elected officials gathered to discuss the importance of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, which aim to expand access to early childhood education and career and technical education courses, and increase teacher salaries.

Elrich’s vision includes the state government controlling marijuana dispensaries, much like how the county government operates liquor stores.

Montgomery County is known as a “control state,” meaning liquor sales and distribution are controlled through the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services department. Private licensees can only sell beer and wine purchased through a county-operated warehouse or county-owned stores.

County stores, which can sell liquor, also purchase products through the warehouse.

Elrich said state-run marijuana dispensaries would make “a boatload of money,” and “a lot more than you would get from taxing the stuff.”

“Once you’ve made the decision to legalize it … maybe the state should just once keep the revenue from something it creates and make it possible to fund some of the things we need,” Elrich said Tuesday.

Marijuana for medical use is legal in Maryland, but users must obtain a medical marijuana license from a physician.

Recreational marijuana use is illegal. Proposed state legislation last year to legalize the drug failed. County leaders expect the issue to surface again during the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The Kirwan Commission funding plan as announced would task Montgomery County with providing $262.7 million more per year for schools — an increase of 14 percent — by fiscal year 2030. By the same year, the state would need to provide an additional $234.8 million, for a total increase in annual spending on Montgomery County schools of $497.5 million.

Overall, for the $4 billion more in overall spending, the state would provide $2.8 billion and the local governments would provide $1.2 billion, according to the proposal. Funding increases would be phased until it reached that level. Local governments would pay in starting in fiscal year 2022.

At the local level, Elrich said creating a more efficient county government could help offset the Kirwan recommendations’ cost.

“Thanks to supportive unions, we can resize the county government in a way that doesn’t cost people work,” Elrich said. “They may change jobs, but they’ll continue to work.”

The full commission will review the funding recommendations at future meetings before making a final recommendation to Gov. Larry Hogan and state lawmakers.

Hogan, an outspoken opponent of the Kirwan plan, held a fundraiser on Thursday night for Change Maryland, an anti-tax increase organization Hogan started eight years ago. The organization aims to raise $2 million to help the governor strike down Kirwan recommendations.

The governor has called Kirwan’s proposal the “Kirwan Tax Hike,” implying that the only way to fund the proposal is through drastic tax increases that he says would be too burdensome for state residents.

William Kirwan, chair of the Kirwan Commission, spoke at Tuesday’s forum, ahead of Hogan’s fundraiser.

He said there’s a “struggle for the soul of Maryland” between those who support and oppose the commission.

“There are people — wealthy people — who got their status in life because they had a great education, in a campaign, giving money so that current kids, including a multitude of low-income kids, don’t have the benefit of the education they had, and that is very upsetting to me,” Kirwan said. “What kind of state do we want to be?

“Do we want to be a state where we have stratified economic circumstances and only the people at the top get a good education? Or do we want to be a state that invests in our future, builds a world-class education and gives every child, no matter their ZIP code, the chance to pursue the American dream?”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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