Elrich Wants to Put Maryland in the Pot Business
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) told Maryland Matters in an interview last week that Maryland shouldn’t just legalize pot, “They should let Maryland farmers grow, and the state should process and sell. And take every dime of revenues.” According to Elrich, the Colorado model — where the state legalizes the drug and collects sales tax from retail sales — misses an opportunity for much greater revenue.[i]
Demonstrating why he is known as “Comrade Elrich,” the County Executive said:
“What’s the justification for giving [the profits] to a bunch of private guys who are rich, so they will get richer, and then you’ll be sitting there with crumbs in your hand, when you could have all of it?”
Elrich promotes the idea to fund the Kirwan Commission educational spending recommendations. Says Elrich, “I’ve talked with [Senate President Mike] Miller and when he goes through all the things you’re going to have with Kirwan, you’re not going to get to the number they need, even putting legalized pot in there, because all you’re going to do is get the [sales] taxes.”
Montgomery County’s experience in the liquor business provides little comfort about the “State Weed” business model. Few, if any current Montgomery County government activities are harder to justify than the Department of Liquor Control’s (DLC) monopoly. Yet Maryland state law prohibits the county’s liquor sellers, retail stores and restaurants, from selling any alcohol not purchased exclusively from the county’s monopoly. The DLC is one of the county government’s most flagrant symbols of its hostile business climate.
The DLC has a well-documented track record of corruption. Local television’s News 4 I-Team previously uncovered that two-thirds of businesses were being “shorted” in their deliveries. From this merchandise, county employees were then selling the “skimmed” inventory on the black market. One store owner explained how county deliverymen try to sell beer under the table, asking for cash for extra cases on their truck. Outside audits highly critical of the DLC inventory control process are yet another measure of the DLC’s continuing mismanagement.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, the state’s top enforcer of alcohol laws and a DLC critic, has previously commissioned an opinion poll demonstrating massive public opposition to the liquor monopoly. Among those answering the question: Do you favor or oppose a proposal to get rid of the laws making Montgomery County an alcohol controlled county, 69% support eliminating it, with slightly higher levels of support for repeal–74%–among people who describe themselves as definite voters.
On the other side of the liquor monopoly issue is one of the county’s most powerful unions. UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) Local 1994 MCGEO, represents about 8,000 county government employees, including about 350 DLC employees. The union opposes opening the liquor monopoly to competition, warning that $35 million in annual county revenues could be lost.
The Elrich’s “State Weed” proposal is getting little political traction. Former state attorney general Douglas Gansler (D) called the proposal “extremely outside the box, both in moral and economic terms.”
“The government ought to be keeping people safe, providing the highest standards of education and concepts like that — not selling people marijuana. One would have to tread carefully [because] once you go down that path, it’s difficult to come back.”
Del. Kathy Szeliga (D-Baltimore and Harford Counties), is no fan of Elrich’s proposal. “There are limits to what the state should do to fund education,” she said. “And becoming a statewide dealer of marijuana will neither solve the education funding problem nor be helpful to our youth.”
None other than Karl Marx famously said: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” From Montgomery’s failed county-run liquor monopoly to his Maryland “State Weed” proposal, Comrade Marc Elrich is determined to pursue an agenda of farce.