Republican state Senator will propose recreational marijuana as way to create needed pension revenue

10/04/2017 03:11 PM

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With one of the worst funded pension systems in the entire nation in the commonwealth, Republican state Sen. Dan Seum says the need for new revenue could take the state higher, legally.

Seum, R-Fairdale, suggests legalizing marijuana could add badly needed new revenues to the state coffers totaling $100 million or more a year. The money represents an untapped stream of cash to pay down estimated unfunded liabilities ranging from $37 billion to $64 billion in the state pension systems.

“I think desperation might help — we need a billion dollars (a year),” Seum said of the chances of legalizing marijuana in Kentucky.

Legislative leaders expect their proposals to reform the state pension systems will be made public in the next 10 days, but those proposed tweaks are not expected to deal with revenue in a special session likely called this year.

Seum says he will propose legislation allowing adult use of cannabis in Kentucky before the 2018 regular session.

“I’m looking at adult use, because that’s where the money is at,” Seum said.

The upcoming session will mainly focus on crafting and passing a two-year state budget, and Seum thinks the need for money to address unfunded pensions will open the door to marijuana.

“Once we come out of the special session the governor is about to call, then we’re going to have a real, hopefully a real understanding of what the needs are when it comes to revenue,” he said.

Seum refers to marijuana legalization in Kentucky as a “jobs bill,” adding that Kentuckians should look no further than the bourbon industry to see the ancillary revenue that is generated from the industry.

Twenty-eight states have legalized some form of marijuana, and Seum says his bill will largely mirror what’s in place currently in Colorado, which approved legalized use by adults over 21 years old in 2012.

Seum said his son, Dan Seum Jr., visited Colorado this year to see how the 2012 legislation was written and what tweaks have been made in the years following passage, and that’s the model the Fairdale Republican will follow when he prefiles a bill later this year.

Jason Warf, political director of Alliance for Innovative Medicine, said that he thinks the market in Kentucky could be larger than what Colorado has seen, and thus more revenue could be expected.

“Obviously, it’s a time here in Kentucky where we need to look at our options,” Warf said.

Warf said that in Colorado dispensaries are licensed through the Department of Revenue and enforced by a self-funded marijuana enforcement division, a model he thinks Kentucky could duplicate with success.

Seum said he is also in favor of bringing in expanded casino gaming to the state in an effort to create as much new revenue as possible.

“As a legislator I’m not inclined to look at any kind of taxes, new taxes or additional taxes until we have explored the possibility of creating new monies,” he said.

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