Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 with many expectations, including that $40 million would be raised annually for public school construction under the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program.
Earlier this month, we learned that only $195,318 was collected in excise taxes during the first month of recreational marijuana sales, for a projected annualized collection of $2.34 million. (The sales taxes collected during the same time on recreational pot totaled $1.4 million, plus another $416,690 from the state’s standard 2.9 percent sales tax.)
So far, it looks like voters won’t capture anywhere near the revenues they anticipated.
Moreover, because Amendment 64 commits the first $40 million in excise taxes to the BEST program every year, there may never be excess excise tax revenue to commit to youth education. Instead, the state will have to rely on collected sales taxes to not only cover basic regulatory and enforcement costs, but to also provide for youth education, prevention and treatment.
Based on January marijuana tax collections, we must ask, “How much marijuana use do we need to see in order to get close to the promised revenues?” We’ve heard from the media that marijuana sales are booming, yet the tax receipts aren’t close to what was projected. The numbers don’t add up, and may lead to another question, “Should medical and recreational marijuana be treated differently for tax purposes when the two are housed under the same roof and sell identical products?”
But the state of Colorado can’t afford to wait for answers to those questions before educating our youth, and Gov. John Hickenlooper seems to agree. His proposed tax spending plan wisely supports funding these critical priorities.
While the state scrambles to meet the challenges of regulating an entirely new harm-producing industry, some municipalities — Denver in particular — have chosen to move full-speed ahead with increased marijuana commercialization. Shops have opened before our kids and the general public have received any information about the actual products being sold, information necessary to adequately protect themselves.
Pot shops have opened before fully funding a data collection program to give us an inkling of what the actual social costs will be, including impacts on school dropout rates, the achievement gap, and workforce readiness issues.
Disturbing stories of young people unintentionally consuming marijuana are becoming frequent. The week that the tax numbers were released, we learned that 15 Westminster middle-school students ate marijuana candies the size of Tootsie Rolls. Many of these students had no idea they were consuming marijuana.
The same week, an 18-year-old in Steamboat Springs found an abandoned chocolate bar and ate the whole thing without knowing it contained multiple servings of marijuana.
Colorado youth have been told that marijuana is a wellness product, but no research has been conducted on the potential health impacts of the highly potent forms of marijuana being sold in stores in Colorado. Yet, we do know that marijuana containing much lower THC-potency levels can cause permanent damage to the developing brain.
Most adults assume that Colorado kids are getting access to the same pot from years ago. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Our kids are getting access to highly potent marijuana concentrates with THC levels that can reach up to 90 percent. These oils and waxes are being sold in Colorado while they remain illegal everywhere else in the world, including the Netherlands.
Adding to the confusion, concerned adults are having an increasingly difficult time detecting whether or not a child is using marijuana. A student might be sucking on a marijuana-infused lollipop, drinking marijuana-infused soda, eating a cookie, or chewing or “vaping” on a pen, highlighter or asthma inhaler loaded with marijuana concentrates, without an adult having a clue.
Whether future recreational marijuana taxes will come in high or low, we can’t afford to waste any more time. We must step up and devote the necessary resources to educating ourselves and our youth, and take full responsibility for the decisions we adults have made.