Adams County pot taxes totaling more than $500,000 have been allocated for education -- resulting in four-year scholarships for 50 low-income students. (Denver Post file)

What is Adams County doing with its half million in pot taxes?

Education allocation from the sales in 7 shops leads to four-year scholarships for 50 low-income students

Adams County’s voter-sanctioned special tax on recreational marijuana sales, which went into effect last summer, was no easy thing.

Three cities — Northglenn, Aurora and Commerce City — sued the county, claiming that it didn’t have the authority under state law to levy a tax on a single product. Coupled with their own municipal taxes on pot, they argued that an additional county levy would put retail pot stores in their jurisdictions at a competitive disadvantage to others.

When a judge ruled in Adams County’s favor last fall, Commissioner Eva Henry knew right away who would benefit from the additional revenues.

“Before we put it on the ballot, we had a conversation about putting it toward education,” she said.

And so the county has — recently devoting $516,718 from the 3 percent sales tax to fund four-year scholarships for 50 low-income Adams County students.

The county aims to ultimately fund college scholarships through the Adams County Scholarship Fund to the tune of $1 million. The county has so far collected just over a half-million dollars from seven shops since July 1.

Students in the free and reduced lunch program will be eligible to apply for one of the four-year scholarships, which range in value from $2,500 to $7,600 annually.

“Not only does it change the life of a child, it changes the life of their families,” Henry said.

The commissioners said in a statement that less than 31 percent of Adams County residents hold at least an associate degree, the lowest percentage of any county in the Denver area and among the lowest in the state.

Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio said the scholarships could make all the difference for families weighing the cost of higher education.

“It’s common for these high-achieving students to pass on pursuing their goals and professional dreams because of the cost of higher education,” he said. “This scholarship fund will help eliminate that barrier.”

Henry said there is no irony in funding education from proceeds made on the sale of a substance that was largely illegal in Colorado less than four years ago.

“I don’t think marijuana is ever going to go away,” she said. “We might as well provide good things from this industry.”

John Aguilar: 303-954-1695, or @abuvthefold

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