(Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)

Colorado’s pot tax for schools sets record in May, crushes 2014 totals

The Colorado Department of Revenue’s just-released marijuana tax data for May 2015 shows schools as the clear winner.

In the first five months of 2015, the state’s pot-funded excise tax that collects money earmarked for school construction projects brought in $13.6 million, which is more than it did in all of 2014.

While the total for the year may not reach the $40 million number used to lure voters to legalize recreational marijuana, backers say they are optimistic.

“It sounds very encouraging,” said state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “Voters wanted the school capital construction program to benefit, and despite some bumps in the road at the beginning, it looks like what was intended is coming to fruition.”

There are three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax, a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers.

This year, from January to May the excise tax earmarked for schools brought in $13.6 million; The money from the excise tax has grown to $3.5 million in May from $2.5 million in March. The tax brought in just $13.3 million in all of 2014. The jump is partly because there are more marijuana stores and partly because shops benefited from a one-time tax-exempt transfer.

The new pot tax data also shows recreational marijuana sales in Colorado plateaued in spring 2015.

Retail sales between March and May stayed between $42.4 and $42.7 million — totaling $42.5 million in May. May’s medical marijuana sales in Colorado were at their highest since last October, totaling $32.4 million.

With the school taxes soaring — seeing increases of $400,000-$500,000 per month for three consecutive months — many wonder where the totals will end up at the end of 2015, and if they’ll near the $40 million mark. A conservative estimate would place the school taxes in the $25-$30 million range. But if future months are equal to May’s record-setting figures, the tax will raise more than $38 million by the time the calendar turns to 2016.

Even if modest growth continues through the end of the year, Colorado schools will get the promised infusion of $40 million — an oft-mentioned element of Amendment 64 that won over many voters who were on the fence in 2012 — and it would be a major win for legalization advocates in Colorado and elsewhere.

Despite the flat recreational sales, Steadman said he hopes the school money will remain near the promised amounts.

“It sounds like they’re on track for more than $30 million for this calendar year,” Steadman said. “When we talk about $40 million for school construction, I knew that was a number they’d need to grow into.”

Steadman said he is also hopeful voters will give school construction a bump through Proposition BB.

Colorado voters in November will determine the fate of Prop BB, which would allow the state to keep millions of dollars of marijuana-generated tax money which must otherwise be refunded under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Money would go toward school construction, law enforcement, substance abuse prevention and youth services.

If voters reject Prop BB, nearly $60 million will be refunded to marijuana businesses and pot-shop customers via a sales tax rate reduction on recreational cannabis.

Sales stats for Colorado weed
A month-by-month look comparing sales of recreational and medical marijuana

2015 Recreational total
2015 Medical total
2015: $356,804,586
2014 Recreational total
2014 Medical total
2014: $699,198,805