A customer makes a purchase at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver in May 2014. (Brennan Linsley, Associated Press file)

Colorado lawmakers start work on marijuana tax refund proposal

The measure does more than just ask voters to keep the money. It also rearranges how the funds would be spent.

Colorado lawmakers started work Wednesday on a proposal to ask voters to keep some $58 million in marijuana tax collections.

Colorado voters already approved the taxes on recreational pot sales in 2013. But because that ballot measure didn’t account for a quirk in state law related to new taxes, the money will have to be refunded unless voters again approve the 10 percent sales and 15 percent excise taxes.

Colorado voters approved the taxes the first time by a 2-to-1 margin. The new ballot measure has broad bipartisan support, with lawmakers calling the measure a do-over of what voters already approved.

“We hope the voters understand,” said Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, one of the sponsors of the ballot measure.

Colorado made a total of about $76 million from marijuana last year, including fees and pre-existing taxes on medical pot. But the refund is required only for the new sales and excise tax collections, which totaled $58 million.

The measure approved by the House Appropriations Committee does more than just ask voters to keep the money, though. It also rearranges how the money would be spent.

For example, the new pot tax measure would set aside $300,000 for the Colorado State Fair. It would also set up a new $2 million “school bullying prevention” fund. Other new items include $1 million for poison control centers.

Lawmakers insisted that the ballot measure is generally consistent with the original voter-approved tax measure. The new measure sets aside $40 million for school construction, the same figure that was proposed to voters when recreational marijuana was first legalized in 2012.

“I hope the voters understand that money is primarily going to be used for programs related to marijuana prevention, treatment, education, and that we literally have already spent some of it,” Rankin said.

Not all lawmakers are sold on the new spending plan, though.

“We really do start siphoning off these dollars to a lot of different places, which makes it somewhat confusing for voters,” said Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan.

Supporters replied that the measure simply tries to be honest with voters about where the money would go.

“We were trying to be very clear with the voters that marijuana was going to pay its own way and that marijuana dollars weren’t going to go into any kind of slush fund,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.

If the ballot measure fails, Colorado would see lower pot taxes and small refunds added to their income tax returns.

About $25 million would go to taxpayers next year, which combined with unrelated credits would mean most would see a total of about $15 to $90.

Another $19.7 million would be refunded to marijuana growers who directly paid those excise taxes.

The final $13.3 million would be accounted for by dropping recreational pot sales taxes for six months. The taxes would drop from 12.9 percent to about 3 percent, not counting local taxes.

Finally, the measure would resolve city-county pot tax disputes by setting by a new state fund to compensate counties that have no pot shops in unincorporated areas. Some of those counties want additional money to pay for things like drug treatment or police enforcement because the counties include cities with retail marijuana.

Either way, Colorado pot shoppers will see a one-day pot tax holiday on Sept. 16. The no-tax day is another requirement triggered by the state constitution when new taxes exceed permitted limits.

Online: House Bill 1367