Guest Column: No on Proposition AA, marijuana taxes too high and unfair
October 21, 2013
Proposition AA on the Nov. 5 Colorado general election ballot would apply to retail marijuana sales that will be regulated under Amendment 64. Proposition AA asks voters to approve an additional 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers of cannabis to raise an estimated $27 million to fund school construction, and an additional 10- to 15-percent sales tax to raise an estimated $33 million to fund a new marijuana police force, according to the Blue Book. Marijuana sales are already subject to a 2.9 percent statewide tax, along with other local taxes.
Amendment 64 was promoted to voters as a system to regulate marijuana "like alcohol." However, since taxes on alcohol are less than 1 percent on average, the "No on Proposition AA" campaign believes voters should be outraged at this bait-and-switch tactic to tax cannabis at a rate much greater than alcohol.
This tax debate highlights what has become a very clear division between cannabis supporters. There are those who support an expensive "strict regulation" model paid for by high taxes and over-regulation, and there are those who continue to support simple "legalization" with reasonable taxes and regulations.
To most people, "legalization" means that prohibition laws are repealed, people are no longer punished for cannabis use, and police resources are used to fight serious crimes. However, Amendment 64s "strict regulation" model does the opposite of this in many cases. The Amendment 64 model allows some people to have some marijuana at some times, but it continues marijuana prohibition for other people with other amounts of marijuana at other times.
For example, under Amendment 64, you can possess one ounce and six plants. But if you possess 1.000001 ounces or seven plants, you are still considered a marijuana criminal. In addition, since Amendment 64 passed, almost 300 pages of new marijuana law and penalties have been added to the books.
To enforce all the new marijuana crimes, Proposition AA would raise an estimated $33 million for the Department of Revenue's Marijuana Criminal Enforcement Division, the first police force in the nation dedicated solely to marijuana law enforcement.
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Now, instead of "legalizing" marijuana for everyone, Amendment 64 has created a new scenario of "good pot smokers" vs. "bad pot smokers." The "good pot smokers" are the ones willing to pay exorbitant taxes and allow the new police force to track their cannabis more strictly than plutonium. The "bad pot smokers" are the ones that will continue to purchase cannabis from their friends (or the evil "black market", as the Proposition AA supporters call them) because they value their privacy and are against over-taxation.
If Proposition AA passes, the "good pot smokers" will actually be funding the police to target and punish the "bad pot smokers", and we will have one more new, well-funded police force that will need to be dismantled in order to bring about true "legalization." When cannabis is finally really "legalized," all pot smokers will be "good pot smokers," no one will be punished, and there will be fewer laws and fewer police needed to enforce them.
Laura Kriho is a member of the Colorado 420 Coalition, a group of organizations supporting the re-legalization of cannabis (marijuana) and hemp in Colorado.