Robert Grandt works in the grow room at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver on March 11. Marijuana growing facilities contributed to the city's energy use increase. (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post)

Colorado pot: Excise taxes for school fund surge in April

After four consecutive months of record-setting growth, recreational pot sales in Colorado leveled off in April 2015 — while the pot taxes earmarked for school construction capital reached an all-time high that month, according to new Department of Revenue data.

Around $42.4 million of recreational pot was sold in Colorado in April, down from $42.7 million in March — the first decline in retail marijuana sales in the state in five months. Meanwhile April’s medical sales, which totaled $31.9 million in Colorado dispensaries, were nearly identical to March’s tallies.

One April statistic set an all-time record in Colorado’s historic recreational marijuana era — the excise taxes collected for school construction capital. More than $3.1 million was raised via the excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers in April, up from the previous record of $2.6 million set in March. These monthly taxes earmarked for schools had never topped $2 million in 2014 — but they’ve already raised more than $10 million in the first four months of 2015, compared to only $13.3 million in all of 2014.

“It’s really good to see the excise tax increasing and providing needed money for the public school construction fund,” said Christian Sederberg, a partner at the cannabis-focused Denver law firm Vicente Sederberg and one of the authors of Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64. “Over time, as this number goes up, it will get closer to that annualized number of $40 million, which was dedicated to that fund.”

The $40 million figure in question is the annual amount of excise tax revenue promised by Amendment 64 for the state school construction fund — a major selling point in convincing voters in 2012. When that specific tax raised only $13 million in 2014, a result of lower-than-expected sales and a loophole that allowed retailers a one-time tax-free transfer of wholesale pot, some voters and legalization critics questioned the integrity of the promised amount.

Colorado voters approve new taxes on recreational marijuana
Advocates for Proposition AA celebrated after the Associated Press and the Denver Post called the vote in their favor, Tuesday night, November 5, 2013 . Rick Ridder, left, high-fived Christian Sederberg, right, at a victor party in downtown Denver. Proposition AA would impose a pair of taxes on legal marijuana sales. (Denver Post file)

But if future months are equal to April’s figures, the fund will sit at around $35 million when the calendar turns to 2016. If the monthly excise tax numbers continue to grow throughout 2015, the fund could legitimately reach the $40 million mark. Either way, the taxes being raised for school construction in Colorado are going up and not down, and legalization supporters say that’s good news.

“The transition in the first year, particularly the transition of medical marijuana to retail marijuana by the businesses, resulted in a significantly lower number of excise tax than was anticipated in 2014,” recounted Sederberg. “As business on the retail side normalizes and transfers become regular, we’re seeing now a predictable revenue stream that is approaching and will hopefully exceed the $40 million for the public school construction fund.

“It’s a very good thing for students in Colorado and the state.”