Colorado raises $2M in first month of marijuana taxes

DENVER—The first tax figures for the first state in the nation to legalize retail marijuana shows the drug brought in $3.5 million in taxes and fees in January.

Of that, $2.1 million came from recreational marijuana and the remaining $1.4 million from medical marijuana.

The figures from the state Department of Revenue also give a preliminary idea of the size of the marijuana trade in the state, showing $14 million worth of marijuana was sold in the first month of legal sales.

Medical marijuana still outsold recreational pot by more than two to one, netting $31 million in sales that month.

The report provides the first concrete proof of what pro-marijuana advocates had promised, that growing and selling the drug locally would generate economic activity here rather than sending drug money out-of-state, and that the drug could provide a windfall to the state government.

"It's like the end of alcohol prohibition. We don't go to the alley to buy a six pack anymore. We go to stores. And that is what's happening with marijuana," said Brian Vicente, who helped legalize pot in Colorado. "This is revenue directly out of the hands of cartels. These tax numbers will probably grow over time, but since it's a new market, we'll have to wait and see."

January's numbers are skewed by two factors: a small number of stores that were licensed and ready to do business in the first month of sales, and an initial surge of customers wanting to be among the first customers in the historic legal sales.

Sales taxes on pot brought in a total of $1.8 million in January.

The grand total on this report included excise taxes $195,000, paid as 15 percent of the wholesale price when growers transfer the drug to be sold in a store.

In November, voters enacted the 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent special sales tax on the drug, which is charged on top of ordinary sales tax (2.9 percent of which goes to the state.)

The special sales tax rate can be adjusted by state lawmakers between 0-15 percent, though there is no serious effort underway to change the rate before seeing how much it brings in at 10 percent.

Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D-Colorado) office recently predicted that all the taxes and fees on retail marijuana would raise more than $35 million by the end of June and nearly $188 million in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

Due to the pro-marijuana campaign's highlighting of education funding, there are common misperceptions about what will happen to this tax money in Colorado.

Some of the money will go to school construction and improvement, but most of it will not.

In the language approved by voters, the first $40 million raised by the excise tax each year will go to school construction and improvement, which won't build many schools by itself when you consider that there are 177 school districts in the state.

Lawmakers are in the process of deciding what to do with the rest of the tax revenue from retail pot, which the governor's report predicts will amount to $77 million next fiscal year.

Hickenlooper has proposed a spending package with tens of millions of dollars aimed at preventing underage use of the drug, treating substance abuse problems, and public health.

The governor's proposal also includes $5 million for law enforcement and regulatory oversight, though police agencies in Colorado say they'd like to see more funding to offset the extra workload of enforcing the state's marijuana laws.

As they ask for a slice of the pie, police chiefs say they'd rather not have the pie to begin with.

"I think if I could turn back the clock, we would not be having Amendment 64 in place to where we have to worry about pot-related revenue," said Chief John Jackson with Greenwood Village Police Department.

Since legal pot is here to stay, police want money to train officers and crack down on people who break the law by driving stoned or selling what they grow at home.

"The cost of all of this should be borne by the industry," Jackson said.

Vicente agrees, saying that the voters wanted the tax money raised by pot sales to go to schools and regulation of the drug.


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