Pot poll sees support for retail reefer tax that could generate $2M a year
EAGLE COUNTY — Eagle County does not have its own marijuana tax, but the estimated $2 million it could generate locally has the county commissioners eager for one.
A poll by Boulder-based Magellan Strategies told the commissioners that up to three-quarters of likely voters would support a marijuana tax, depending on how the money was spent.
The commissioners have until Sept. 8 to put a tax question on the November ballot. The county staff is hammering out a possible ballot question, said Bryan Treu, county attorney and interim county manager.
About those Benjamins
Because Eagle County does not have its own pot tax, the county’s marijuana money comes from the state’s 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax.
Right now, the state shares $250,000 annually in sales taxes with Eagle County, Treu said.
A county marijuana sales tax would likely be phased in, Treu said, and might start at around 2.5 percent. The early numbers break out like this:
• 2.5 percent could generate $350,000 annually.
• 5 percent could generate $750,000 annually.
Eagle County’s proposed pot tax would be layered on top of the county’s existing 4 percent sales tax, and the state’s 10 percent retail marijuana sales tax, said Scot Hunn, owner of the local consulting firm Hunn Planning and Policy.
Sales taxes are straight arithmetic. Excise taxes are more like first-year algebra, but still not too complicated.
Colorado’s excise tax is the 15 percent tax on a value of a pound of marijuana.
Colorado’s Department of Revenue says a pound of marijuana is worth up to $1,500.
That means the state collects 15 percent of that $1,500, or $225 per pound in excise taxes.
How much marijuana is sold by Eagle County shops is still being calculated, Treu said, so any revenue estimates are just that, estimates.
However, the combined sales and excise taxes combined could add as much as $2 million into county coffers in the first year, Treu said.
Colorado cash crop
Colorado’s statewide excise tax generated nearly $200 million in statewide marijuana tax revenue in 2016, stemming from $1.3 billion in marijuana sales, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana.
This past year was Colorado’s third year of regulated pot sales. The first year saw state revenue hit $699.2 million and $996.2 million in 2015.
Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000. The state taxes medical marijuana at 2.9 percent, plus license and application fees.
When Coloradans legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, they taxed it more aggressively. In addition to the 2.9 percent sales tax, the state charges an excise tax of 15 percent and a special sales tax of 10 percent, plus license and application fees.
Those state fees are supposed to cover the state’s costs, Hunn said.
“When someone applies for a state license, they pay the state fee. A portion of that is passed along to the county or town,” Hunn said.
About Eagle County’s pot poll
Support for plans to spend the $2 million annually break out like this:
• 78 percent support spending possible pot taxes for mental health and substance abuse services.
• 72 percent support putting it in the county’s general fund, the checkbook by which the county conducts its day-to-day business.
• Among three political party groups, (Democrats 87 percent, Republicans 75 percent and unaffiliated 75 percent) voter support for the marijuana tax was strong if the money would be spent for only mental health and substance abuse services.
Support sank as the potential uses became more convoluted:
• 58 percent when earmarked for workforce housing.
• 50 percent when the revenue is put toward multiple projects and programs.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.