DENVER–Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, and it could become the first state to repeal it.
A proposal being floated in the state legislature would send two ballot measures to the voters in November.
The first would ask for both excise and sales taxes on recreational marijuana, and the second would repeal Amendment 64 if the first measure fails.
Mason Tvert, who led the successful 2012 campaign for Amendment 64, accused foes of legalized marijuana, specifically the group Smart Colorado, of trying to thwart the will of the voters by pushing for a repeal.
“What this comes down to is that this is a proposal being pushed by Smart Colorado, and we hope that the legislators are smart enough to ignore it,” said Tvert at a Friday press conference. “They’re trying to entirely repeal the initiative that was approved by Colorado voters.”
Amendment 64, approved by 55 percent of voters in November, calls for the state legislature to place a measure on the November 2013 ballot to fund a regulatory system with an excise tax. The legislature is also considering adding a special sales tax of 10 or 15 percent to help cover the costs of regulation.
The problem comes if the voters refuse to approve the additional taxes. In that case, Amendment 64 could end up draining the state budget instead of providing the hoped-for additional revenue for projects like school construction.
Diane Carlson of Smart Colorado described the repeal as a means of ensuring that the amendment doesn’t force cuts in budget priorities like K-12 education.
“This just gives the option for voters that if there is not the money to cover the costs, then Amendment 64 should not be implemented,” said Carlson. “Are we going to shift money from our schools to fund marijuana? That is not what we were promised in the fall.”
She said state legislators came up with the repeal idea and contacted Smart Colorado representatives afterward to give their input, not the other way around. No bill or resolution to place a repeal on the ballot has yet been introduced.
Revenue issues related to marijuana legalization have taken center stage as the state legislature wades into uncharted territory on how to fund the costs associated with legalization. A report issued Wednesday by the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University found that legalization may not pay for itself.
The report concluded that the proposed tax structure now under consideration by the legislature would generate an estimated $130 million in Fiscal Year 2014-15. But the proposed marijuana taxes–a 15 percent excise tax and 15 percent sales tax–would fall short of providing the $40 million for school construction described in the ballot language, and might not even cover the costs associated with legalization.
Those include increased expenses for law enforcement, administration, public health and safety, and human services, said the report.
“While taxes from marijuana will contribute to school capital construction needs and may cover the incremental costs associated with legalization, they will not contribute in any significant way to solving the structural gap developing in the state budget,” said the report.
Despite the uncertainty over funding, Amendment 64 proponents are pushing for the state legislature to adopt a 10 percent sales tax, instead of 15 percent.
Tvert said administration officials have informed the Amendment 64 campaign that the cost of enforcing regulations would be $30 million, well below the estimated $130 million expected to be generated under the legalization framework.
“The administration has given us every indication that what they need to fund enforcement would be around $30 million,” said Amendment 64 spokesman Joe Megysey. “So a 10 percent sales tax would adequately fund a robust enforcement regime.”
The House Appropriations approved Friday morning the two marijuana regulatory bills, which now go to the House floor.