Marijuana Tax Revenue Usage

by Richard MacPhie

Amendment 64 was the tweak to the Colorado Constitution that opened the door to legal marijuana use in the state, along with Washington State in 2012. Since then, cannabis and marijuana dispensaries have been popping up like mushrooms. Sales topped the one billion mark—that’s billion with a “B”—in fiscal 2015, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue, bringing in millions of tax dollars. Which begs the question, where does all that revenue go to?

Of course, when “sins” are sanctioned by the government—gambling is illegal unless you want a scratch-off or ten—they soothe the troubled soul by proclaiming that the proceeds are going to education, or saving the ducks, or preserving pond frog habitats, or … you get the picture.

The only problem with these laudable goals is that the pet project du jour is usually addressed in the state budget anyway, so when said projects get a boost from sin taxes, the normal allocations get shuffled to different pork action items as the money simply moves from one pocket to the other pocket of the same pair of pants. So where does Colorado’s weed revenue go to? Well, the Crown Jewel of recipients is something called BEST, or Building Excellent Schools Today.<

There! Don’t you feel better about your 32-year-old child living in the basement, whose only emitted signs of life are the alternating sounds of a clacking game controller and the crunches of Doritos?

I mean, there not just building schools, they’re building EXCELLENT schools, and not tomorrow, they’re building them TODAY! How could you deny excellent schools? Today?

There is a sticky wicket or two involved in the whole legal pot thing. Marijuana is still federally recognized as a Schedule 1 drug, and since banks are governed by the fed, who backs them with FDIC, bankers are prohibited from doing business with known drug dealers, gangsters, or anybody falling under the wide umbrella of RICO laws.

While the Obama administration has turned a casual eye upon federally enforcing laws, some in the industry worry about the next regime. “Obama is going to be out of office in a couple of years,” said Mary Wickersham, a former BEST board member and director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado Denver. “What is going to happen with this revenue?”

For the moment, however, the industry is successful as a revenue generator. Weed revenue has outpaced alcohol revenue, and out-of-staters come and drop their Benjamins in Colorado, thus helping the state economy. And, the state is ostensibly getting the BEST schools built on the weed dime.