Colorado voters to decide on marijuana — again
What is Proposition BB?
In November 2015 ballots that have arrived in mailboxes, the state is asking for permission to spend $66 million collected from retail marijuana sales.
If voters say “yes”: The state will spend the money, including $40 million on school construction, and $12 million for enforcement and education programs.
If voters say “no”: The money is refunded to marijuana cultivators and retailers, as well as to marijuana purchasers in the form of reduced sales taxes and a small ($6-$32) refund to all taxpayers.
EAGLE COUNTY — When the state legalized recreational marijuana and voters gave the OK to tax the product to benefit schools, budget forecasters overlooked one thing — just how much pot people would buy.
Turns out, retail marijuana sales and the rebounding economy exceeded the state’s expectations (although not by a huge margin), and the state government is asking voters if it can keep the additional tax revenue.
When Colorado voters said yes to 2013’s Proposition AA, they approved taxes on retail marijuana, promising up to $40 million for school construction and another $12 million for drug safety programs. The taxes collected ended up being more in the $66 million range, which triggered a part of the state constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, otherwise known as TABOR.
The state’s guess of how much revenue retail pot would bring in was close — within a percentage point — but it was still outside TABOR’s limits, so Proposition BB was born.
“They had to come up with an estimation for something that had never been done before,” said state Sen. Kerry Donovan.
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School construction or refunds?
TABOR now requires lawmakers to either put the spending of the tax money back to voters, or refund all of it to marijuana growers and users and Colorado taxpayers. That money would come mainly in the form of reduced sales taxes for marijuana purchasers, and a refund that would average about $8 per taxpayer.
If voters say “yes” to Proposition BB, then the money will be spent as originally planned, including an extra $4 million that the state is yet to make a decision about.
“We were surprised and disappointed to see it had triggered this mechanism of TABOR,” said state Rep. Millie Hamner, whose district includes Summit County. “We’re in this position where we can’t honor what the voters already approved. We really need this revenue to provide the education and enforcement that’s needed. I hope people bear with us. They said ‘yes’ to recreational marijuana and ‘yes’ to AA. We need them to say ‘yes’ one more time.”
Proposition BB has largely been a low-profile measure, but several lawmakers have chimed in, asking voters to vote “yes.”
“If anyone voted for AA or Amendment 64 because they thought it would provide funds for schools or for enforcement and education programs, they’d probably want to vote ‘yes’ on this,” said state Rep. Diane Mitch Busch, who represents Eagle and Routt counties. “I think it’s fiscally a good thing to pass. It’s important for schools and communities.”
Impact on the industry
While the measure is straightforward, Proposition BB isn’t without its opponents.
Robert J. Corry, Jr., an attorney who co-drafted Amendment 64, is the chairman of the No on Prop BB campaign. He argued that the money is better spent returned to taxpayers, and that the sin tax hasn’t had the desired results.
“Colorado’s unregulated gray market is bigger than ever,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece. “Police, prosecutors and courts are still distracted by scores of marijuana ‘criminals.’ The legislature even increased criminal penalties for marijuana, in direct opposition to the voters’ intent to make marijuana legal, as Amendment 64 requires.”
As a whole, the industry is behind BB, with the Marijuana Industry Group and Smart Colorado offering their support for the measure. However, not everyone is a fan of the high taxes on pot. Dieneka Manzanares of Sweet Leaf Pioneer in Eagle said she questions if taxing has gone too far.
“I’m a little on the fence with this — I think the government should look at how they’re going to keep marijuana in the regulatory system,” she said. “In Eagle, we have an additional $5 tax from the town, and when it comes down to it, it’s really affecting the locals. Why wouldn’t they go up-valley where there isn’t an additional tax, or walk out and get it from someone outside the system?”
Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.