In a recent interview, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was interviewed on CNBC and said the following when asked about the $200 million in cannabis tax revenue collected by the state in 2016: “We have a $28 billion state budget overall, and $200 million is just a drop in the bucket there.” It may not seem like much in comparison to the entire budget, but from the perspective of Colorado citizens who are the beneficiaries of this new revenue, $200 million is minimal when considering the amount that is required to make a difference in local communities.
Overall, since the passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado in 2012 and the subsequent launch of the retail cannabis market for all adults on January 1, 2014, sales of cannabis have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue at the state level and tens of millions of additional dollars for localities. In part, this revenue is the result of a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale transfers provided for in the language of Amendment 64, which also instructed the state to direct the first $40 million generated annually from that tax toward public school construction.
“These are real programs helping real people. And it seems as if there will be even more revenue in the coming year.”
During the 2013 legislative session, the legislature also proposed a sales tax of up to 15 percent on adult-use cannabis sales. In the measure placed before the voters of the state that November—due to the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights in the state, tax increases must be approved by the voters—the initial sales tax was set at 10 percent and the legislature had the ability to increase or decrease the tax in the future, as long as it does not exceed 15 percent.
Between 2014 and 2016, that special sales tax generated approximately $300 million dollars for the state coffers. According to information found on the Colorado’s Office of State Planning & Budgeting website, these funds, in addition to supporting the infrastructure of the regulatory system itself, have supported a broad range of beneficial programs, from substance abuse treatment to early literacy grants. Recently, the Colorado legislature approved their budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Here is just a small sampling of the kinds of programs supported with marijuana tax revenue:
- $9,642,950 to expand the School Health Professionals Grant Program, which offers matching grants to school districts, local education authorities, and charter schools to increase the presence of school health professionals.
- $2,557,942 to support four local Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (“LEAD”) pilot programs to divert individuals with substance use disorders from the criminal justice system.
- $2,439,030 for community mental health centers to provide services for juvenile and adult offenders who have mental health problems. As noted in the budget summary, this increase restores to FY 2009-10 levels the amounts allocated to 11 community mental health centers, and adds funding for the remaining six rural centers.
These are real programs helping real people. And it seems as if there will be even more revenue in the coming year.
During the same legislative session in which the programs described above were funded, the legislature also boosted the special sales tax on adult-use cannabis to the maximum 15 percent. This five percent increase was offset by the legislature exempting adult-use cannabis from the standard 2.9 percent state sales tax. But the resulting 2.1 percent increase should generate at least $30 million in addition revenue in the coming fiscal year.
In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter how much space cannabis tax revenues occupy in the overall bucket. The more important thing is that they are flowing at all—and helping Colorado’s communities.