BOSTON (SHNS) – Joined by the entire Republican caucus and a small cadre of her fellow Democrats, Rep. Diana DiZoglio attempted Wednesday to restore a dollar figure on the amount of marijuana tax revenue that will be spent on addiction treatment and prevention, and castigated House leadership for dropping its initial commitment to dedicate $50 million a year to such efforts.
DiZoglio’s effort was unsuccessful, but her amendment and floor speech led the chairman of the Marijuana Policy Committee to circulate a letter “to clarify some of the inaccurate statements made” and to double down on a pledge to fund substance misuse treatment, prevention and education programs.
When the House passed its own rewrite of the marijuana law in June, the bill (H 3776) included a provision that “not less than $50,000,000 shall be expended annually on substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.” The first iteration of the House bill set the amount at $10 million, then it grew to $30 million and was further increased to $50 million through the House amendment process. But the exact funding commitment was dropped in talks with the Senate.
Speaking in favor of her budget bill amendment Wednesday, DiZoglio said she was “so very pleased” in March when House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event that the House would use marijuana revenues to “create the substance addiction fund dedicated to addiction and recovery efforts.”
“I’m up here today to encourage this membership to support those words and that effort because the reality is when the marijuana bill came to this floor for a vote the first time, we in the House voted for the provision to fund that substance addiction fund,” she said. “But when the final version of the bill reported out from the conferees came out, it included no language whatsoever that guaranteed funding to a substance addiction fund of any kind.”
The House and Senate negotiated a compromise bill in July and the $50 million amount was stripped away — replaced with language that directs the revenue derived from marijuana sales to be first used to cover the costs of regulating the industry and complying with a pesticide mandate, then be directed to “evidence-based and evidence-informed substance use prevention and treatment and substance use early intervention services.”
“All of the funding that we said we were going to allocate towards addiction recovery efforts was made subject to appropriation and directed to the general fund,” DiZoglio said. “And guys, we know what that means, right? It means the funding we said we were going to guarantee goes towards substance abuse is now not guaranteed at all.”
Rep. Mark Cusack, who helms the Marijuana Policy Committee and shepherded the bill through the House, did not respond to DiZoglio on the House floor but said later that “of course” substance use disorder funding remains a priority for House leadership even without having a specific amount written into the law.
“That is why we wrote into the marijuana law that substance use disorder treatment, prevention and education had to be funded; including school and community programs,” Cusack said. “We are in full agreement on this issue.”
In a letter he sent to his colleagues Thursday evening, Cusack included the language from the final bill that sets substance use prevention efforts as the first funding priority after the costs of the Cannabis Control Commission are covered and “clearly shows where we have dedicated the new revenue.”
“In addition, revenue will not be generated until the legal sale of marijuana begins on July 1, 2018. The Cannabis Control Commission budget as well as the revenue generated from the sale and excise tax on marijuana will go through the normal budget process in the House and Senate,” Cusack wrote. “We will appropriate actual real revenue when it exists and not go down the road of guessing and making up numbers to just make us feel good.”
DiZoglio, who voted against the final marijuana bill because it did not include specific funding for substance misuse treatment and called on Gov. Charlie Baker to veto the bill for the same reason, said she received a disappointing answer when she asked why the funding had been removed from the bill.
“I was told by leadership that the tax percentage on marijuana changed from 28 percent in the House version to 20 percent in the final version so because of that difference, we couldn’t allocate any money now towards the substance addiction fund,” DiZoglio said. “Mr. Speaker, that is unacceptable.”
A Methuen Democrat in her fifth year in the House, DiZoglio proposed an amendment to the supplemental budget that would have appropriated the lesser of $30 million or 15 percent of total marijuana revenue to addiction treatment and prevention programs.
The amendment failed 47-108, with all 34 Republicans, the House’s one independent and 11 other Democrats voting with DiZoglio.
DiZoglio took to Twitter to express her displeasure with the speaker after the vote. At 11:27 p.m. Wednesday night, DiZoglio tweeted at DeLeo, “I’m deeply disappointed you voted today against your own plan to dedicate some of marijuana tax toward substance addiction.” The tweet had been deleted by Thursday afternoon.
DeLeo’s office declined to respond to DiZoglio’s floor speech and directed inquiries to Cusack.
In an email to the News Service, Cusack said, “I am happy a majority of my colleagues have read the marijuana legislation and comprehend what it actually says and does.”