Projected pot revenue varies widely, with predictions between $5.1 million and $19.2 million

Alaska commercial marijuana sales are expected to generate between $5.1 million and $19.2 million in tax revenue next year when legal sales of the drug are slated to begin, according to a state preliminary projection.

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The Alaska Dispatch News reports (http://bit.ly/1TlH6OH) the projections by the state Department of Revenue vary widely based on some difficult-to-determine factors, including how much pot is consumed and how many customers might enter the legal retail market.

"To a certain extent you're shooting in the dark here," said Ken Alper, director of the agency's tax division.

Data from 2009-2010 was used to help predict how many people use marijuana. The state inflated those figures by 20 percent to account for underreporting, resulting in the higher projection.

The state also predicted adults would consume between 3.4 and 3.7 ounces annually.

Opponents of the new law project revenue on the low scale, while the Alaska Cannabis Institute estimates revenue at $20.4 million. The Marijuana Policy Group came up with a $56 million estimate.

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The marijuana legalization initiative passed by voters last November calls for taxing marijuana at $50 an ounce.

Alper said the tax and regulatory structure the state is developing will be the key factor in determining who switches to the legal retail market from the black market. Unlike Washington and Colorado — the first states in the country with legal recreational pot sales — Alaska does not have a medical marijuana industry separate from its commercial industry, Alper noted. So Alaska could see a higher percentage of consumers going the retail route.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com