Colorado raises $150 million from marijuana. Will more states legalize?

Colorado has collected so much marijuana tax revenue that a state law may return some of it to the public. But legalizing pot is not a quick budget fix, lawmakers say.

Brennan Linsley/AP/File
A customer pays cash for retail marijuana at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, in May 2014. Colorado’s marijuana experiment was designed to raise tax revenue for the state and its schools, but a state law may put some of the money directly into residents’ pockets. The state constitution limits how much tax money the state can take in before it has to give some back.

Colorado has brought in more than $150 million in marijuana tax revenue, according to official state data.

That doesn't make it a budgetary panacea, warn lawmakers. 

"The big lesson we tell other states is you probably shouldn't legalize marijuana if you want to make money – that's not why you do it," said J. Skyler McKinley, deputy director of the governor's Office of Marijuana Coordination, to the Huffington Post. "You do it because you think that a regulated marketplace might be safer than an unregulated marketplace, or you believe that the war on drugs didn't work."

A representative from Washington – which has raised about $83 million in taxes since becoming the second state to legalize marijuana sales – agreed.

"The legalization initiative was not driven by a desire for a revenue, but it has provided a small assist for our state budget," said Jaime Smith, deputy communications director for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, to the Huffington Post. "When you’re looking for billions of dollars, tens of millions doesn’t solve the problem – but it certainly doesn’t hurt."

Back in February, CNN reported that sales tax had brought in only $53 million in Colorado, a figure that fell short of analysts' projections and suggested that consumers were turned off by the 28 percent tax on legal pot.

But this summer, state officials reported that marijuana tax revenues were up nearly 100 percent, according to ABC7 Denver. Revenue jumped from $25 million in the first five months of 2014 to $44 million in the same period this year.

Colorado began directing some marijuana revenue toward school and research programs in May, including providing grants to public school districts and charter schools, an education official told The Huffington Post. Almost $24 million was allocated to the Building Excellent Schools Today program, said Kevin Huber.

"I have no problem paying taxes if they’re going to schools," local pot consumer Maddy Beaumier told Counter Current News as he shopped at a marijuana dispensary.

But while marijuana is pouring millions of dollars into Colorado's treasury – over $152 million since 2012, according to state revenue reports of sales taxes and licensing fees – it comes with its own high regulatory costs, warn lawmakers.

"Our philosophy has been that marijuana pays its own way," said Colorado's Mr. McKinley. "Every dime we bring in from legalization is dedicated to the cost of legalization. That's regulatory framework first, then public education campaigns about safe and responsible use and then prevention and treatment programs."

Currently, Colorado is facing an unusual problem for a state: too much revenue.

Colorado's "Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights" requires the state to issue refunds to taxpayers if revenue exceeds projections, reports The New York Times. Coloradans will vote in November on whether the state should spend the money or return it to citizens.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.