Colorado Has Made So Much From Weed Tax That State Gov Wrestles With How To Spend It

20/02/2014 17:15

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As other states struggle to find money for vital programs, Colorado has a different sort of problem. They have more money than they expected and now need to decide what to do with it.

According to the latest budget proposal released by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado’s first official estimate of how much the state will get courtesy of the marijuana tax is $30 million over what voters were told they could expect. Originally, voters were told that the sales and excise taxes on recreational and medicinal marijuana sales would be about $70 million annually, that number now stands at $98 million. It might be the first time in history that voters were told something by a politician and it turned out to be 30 million times better than what was promised.

The enthusiasm for legal weed was much greater than anyone could have anticipated. Colorado, by becoming the nation’s first state that allowed recreational weed, opened the floodgates for people looking to buy the drug safely and legally. Now it is reaping the benefits of being first. Colorado natives and so-called weed tourists are flocking in. Marijuana dispensaries are making a killing. So much, in fact, that economists and policy makers are scrambling to reassess their estimates.

With the extra money, it is up to Governor Hickenlooper and his administration to figure out how to put it to good use. As part of the deal to legalize marijuana, the government had previously vowed to spend its profits on substance abuse prevention and other anti-drug programs. It was a pragmatic political move at the time; the lawmakers certainly didn’t want to seem like they were eager to profit off of the sale of what was once an illegal drug. Now they have cash in hand to make good on that promise.

Hickenlooper’s proposal listed six priorities for spending the pot sales taxes.

The spending plan included $45.5 million for youth use prevention, $40.4 million for substance abuse treatment and $12.4 million for public health.

“We view our top priority as creating an environment where negative impacts on children from marijuana legalization are avoided completely,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to legislative budget writers, which must approve the plan.

The governor also proposed a $5.8 million, three-year “statewide media campaign on marijuana use,” presumably highlighting the drug’s health risks. The state Department of Transportation would get $1.9 million for a new “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign to tout the state’s new marijuana blood-limit standard for drivers.

Also, Hickenlooper has proposed spending $7 million for an additional 105 beds in residential treatment centers for substance abuse disorders. [source]

An additional $40 million that isn’t being included in the tax priorities listed above has been set aside for school construction next year. By years end, Coloradans will be able to see the tangible benefits that their progressive drug laws are having: Drug treatment centers and schools rather than jail and underground drug abuse.

Other states, particularly Washington which will begin its own experiment with legal recreational weed in a few months, are now making note of Colorado’s successes. It’s hard to imagine that only a few months ago, people were still not entirely convinced that recreational marijuana wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen. Those voices are becoming less and less common.

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