(Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post file)

Editorial: Keep Colorado pot tax as-is and focus on medical laws

It’s far too early to talk about reducing taxes on retail marijuana. But it’s not too soon to address ongoing weaknesses in medical marijuana regulation, if necessary by preparing a measure that eventually could be taken to the ballot.

State Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who leads a special legislative committee on marijuana revenue, naturally wants to consider every aspect of regulation that might account for lackluster retail tax collections. But since no one predicted how retail sales would play out in their first six months, no one knows where they’ll be a year or 18 months from now, either.

Lawmakers need a better sense of what a mature, stable market looks like before they conclude that taxes should be adjusted.

Still, there is much else to look at, beginning with how tax revenues are distributed and whether key programs are getting enough money — especially since pot tax collections came in 60 percent lower in the first six months of this year than projected.

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They also should look into whether it is still as easy to game the medical marijuana system, where patients pay no special pot taxes, as it was before officials tried to tighten up the rules just a few months ago. If so, then they need to try again.

According to a state study titled “Market Size and Demand for Marijuana in Colorado,” those who use marijuana daily “drive almost 70 percent of total marijuana demand.”

So it’s no wonder they’d prefer to get red cards qualifying them for cheaper medical marijuana if they could. A number of these people are, of course, genuine patients in pain who get relief from pot. But those who are not should be in the retail market paying retail marijuana taxes.

Unfortunately, the 2000 amendment authorizing medical marijuana creates obstacles to effective regulation, and it may be worth asking voters to tweak it. With marijuana now legal, no one could credibly claim that the purpose was to limit access to pot.

Graphic: Colorado demand for marijuana is estimated at 130 metric tons of pot for 2014 — how heavy is that?

This story was first published on DenverPost.com