Where does the green go? Marijuana taxes save lives, boost health programs

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington's approach to marijuana sales and the dedicated tax money directed to the poor, the sick and those in need provided a lifeline for Lydia Stanley.

“I have a place to live. I couldn`t ask for anything more right now,” said Lydia Stanley, a mother who is emerging from the haze of self-abuse and years of struggle.

“Losing my kids, having CPS involved, being a drug addict for 15 years,” she said.

Stanley sat in the Olympia office of Family Education and Support Services on Tuesday, nine months into recovery and healing - thanks in large part to taxes paid by people buying pot.

“I think it`s very convenient. I think it`s very ironic,” she laughed.

The program was a pilot project fully funded by marijuana taxes and is one of many funded by the $830 million the Department of Financial Management will dole out in the next two years.

The largest chunk - more than $330 million - goes to boosting the state Medicaid program, a tenuous health care account that will become even more critical if the federal government follows through on cuts.

But there's also the $730,000 of pot-tax money allocated to study pot.

“It`s a completely new medical arm,” said Dr. Nephi Stella, the director of the University of Washington’s cannabis research center, a combined project with WSU.

While many of the psychotropic effects of marijuana are well-known, Stella and others are focused on cannabinoids, the molecules that can heal, stem-off seizures and much more.

“Now we have cannabis-based anti-cancer drugs that we're moving forward toward clinical trials,” he said.

His two decades of study have led to more acceptance of cannabis research, and, of late, finding solutions to the opioid epidemic.

Stella says his team is focusing on marijuana as an alternative to harder, deadlier narcotics.

“If one can replace opioids by cannabinoids, and have the same benefit, then you will reduce the side effects,” he said.

In a way, this is now a closed loop.

Legal pot customers are fueling discoveries and aiding recovery for others.

But collecting the money still isn't easy, says marijuana business attorney Sean Badgley.

He helps owners understand that collecting taxes is part of the price of admission.

“Hey, we have to give some taxes over so that people kind of have buy-in on this if they don`t care about cannabis generally,” Badgley said.

Those double-digit tax rates at production, cultivation, and sale are earmarked for youth surveys of drug use, mental health services, and local cities and counties.

Lydia Stanley came to get help because of drugs and says in a way, she's been healed by them too.

“I abandoned myself to my addiction, and hopelessness is where I was. And then one conversation, and instantly, my whole life had changed,” she said.

Learn more about the current system here.