Campaign launched for pot tax to fund schools

The campaign effort to get Coloradans to approve the only statewide measure on this year’s ballot went live last week, and the man behind it is hoping voters take the time to understand why a third marijuana question is before them.

That became necessary because of a quirk in state laws dealing with tax refunds that no one anticipated when voters legalized retail marijuana, and then approved a second ballot measure taxing it.

As a result, if voters don’t approve Proposition BB on this year’s ballot, the $40 million in marijuana taxes that voters, twice, said they wanted to be spent on school construction projects won’t happen, said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who launched the Vote Yes on BB campaign.

Instead, much of the $58 million that the state has already collected from the sales and excise taxes that voters placed on retail marijuana will be refunded to marijuana cultivators who grow the weed, and to pot buyers in the form of a temporary tax reduction.

“It’s really a pretty simple question of, ‘Did you mean it when you said, tax marijuana?’ And do you want us to spend it on the things you said you wanted us to spend it on,” Steadman said. “Voters have twice expressed their will on this, and that’s why you saw overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature to refer this question to the ballot. Voters have been clear, they want it taxed regardless of which side they were on for legalization.”

To date, there has been no organized effort opposing the ballot measure.

The measure to place the question on the ballot — HB1367 — cleared the Legislature with only Republicans voting against it, 15 in the House and eight in the Senate, including Sens. Ray Scott of Grand Junction and Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs.

Under the ballot measure, if approved another $6.3 million in pot taxes would go toward youth service programs and $5.7 million for local communities in the form of grants designed to offset the impact of legalized marijuana.

“The big emphasis on this is, if people vote yes, the school construction program that was one of the intended beneficiaries of marijuana legalization is actually going to see the $40 million that been talked about for a couple of years now,” Steadman said. “So far, since Amendment 64 passed, the (school construction) program has not received that mark.”

Amendment 64 legalizing retail marijuana that voters approved in 2012 called for that money to go toward school construction. Proposition AA approved by voters the following year called for taxing marijuana sales, and again said the first $40 million would go toward school construction.

This year’s measure really is just a matter of a strict adherence to the state’s tax laws, which would divert some marijuana tax revenue elsewhere unless voters say otherwise, Steadman said.

“The earlier ones were aspirations. This one makes it happen,” he said of the three pot ballot measures. “The money’s there, and if people say, ‘yes,’ immediately after the ballots are certified, the state treasurer is going to transfer $40 million to the school construction fund.”


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