A proposed statewide tax on the new recreational marijuana trade would steer an estimated $27.5 million per year into a special fund that provides construction grants for public school facilities across Colorado.
In addition to a 10 percent tax on consumer sales to support state and local regulation of the industry, Proposition AA proposes a 15 percent excise tax on the wholesale end between suppliers and retailers.
The campaign group in favor of the proposal, Committee for Responsible Regulation, estimates the excise tax will generate $27.5 million annually for the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program.
Up to $40 million per year in future taxes could go to public school construction under the proposal, which is before Colorado voters in the Nov. 5 mail ballot election.
It’s one of the primary selling points touted by the pro-Prop AA campaign, according to a statement read at the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s Issues & Answers Forum last week.
The money allocated to the BEST program will go to “renew and renovate old facilities, address air quality issues and overcrowding in Colorado schools,” according to the statement.
BEST grants are awarded annually through a competitive application process, utilizing a mix of lottery and state land trust funds and requiring a local match, according to Ted Hughes, director of capital construction assistance for the Colorado Department of Education.
“This would allow us to take care of a lot more public school needs around the state, and increase the amount of funding we are able to work with,” he said of the proposed marijuana tax.
Since its creation in 2008, the BEST program has awarded $795 million in school construction grants, including recent awards for two charter schools in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Aspen Community School and Ross Montessori School in Carbondale.
Ross Montessori remains on a wait list to receive an $11.8 million BEST grant, while it awaits the outcome of several local bond issue proposals intended for school districts to meet their matching requirement. The school, which operates under the state Charter School Institute, is also still working to obtain zoning and development approvals for a new school site.
Opponents of Prop AA, represented by the No Over Taxation campaign committee, argue that the combined sales and excise taxes are too high and will stifle the potential economic benefit from the new recreational marijuana trade.
“The debate rarely focuses on the boon economy that marijuana has the potential to be,” according to the committee’s statement, which also was read at the Glenwood Chamber forum.
“Considering that marijuana is already a multi-billion dollar black market industry … it is safe to assume that the potential for economic growth in Colorado is much more than predicted,” according to the anti-tax campaign. “Between tourism and marijuana enthusiasts through the state, there will be plenty of revenue to pay for schools and regulation enforcement.”
Under Prop AA, 15 percent of revenues generated from the 10 percent retail sales tax would be directed back to the municipalities and counties that have agreed to allow retail marijuana sales.
Locally, that would include the city of Glenwood Springs and the town of Carbondale, but would exclude Garfield County, which adopted an ordinance prohibiting all types of recreational marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas.
Amendment 64, approved by Colorado voters last year, legalized the possession of limited amounts of marijuana for persons age 21 and over and opened the door for retail sales. It also allowed local jurisdictions to ban retail activity within their boundaries.
“This would allow us to take care of a lot more public school needs around the state, and increase the amount of funding we are able to work with.”
Colorado Department of Education