Push is on for pot taxes

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Supporters of a retail marijuana tax initiative held a Capitol rally on Sept. 4, urging Colorado voters to back pot sales taxes to ensure that the newly created industry “pays its own way.”

The rally served as a campaign kickoff for Proposition AA, which will ask voters to give the go-ahead for retail pot to be taxed at 25 percent this fall, with the revenue going toward school construction and support for industry regulation.

Retail pot sales will soon become a reality in the state, thanks to last year’s voter-backed passage of Amendment 64. The Legislature passed pot regulations earlier this year, but voters still must decide whether they will support the taxes needed to fund retail marijuana rules.

State Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who played a key role in crafting Amendment 64 legislation, said that unless voters back the pot taxes this fall, “we will have to do one of two things: Take money from education and other programs in Colorado to fund this industry, or we’ll have lackluster or lax enforcement,”

“This campaign kickoff is to acknowledge and recognize to the people of Colorado that these taxes absolutely must pass,” Pabon said.

Proposition AA will ask voters to approve a 15 percent excise tax and a 10 percent retail tax on marijuana sales. Revenue from the excise tax will go toward public school construction, while the money collected from the retail tax will back the regulations that were enacted by the Legislature.

The 25 percent state tax does not include whatever local taxes might be imposed by individual municipalities.

Brian Vicente, an architect of Amendment 64, said the taxes are expected to bring in about $70 million in revenue for the state.

Vicente also reminded voters that only pot-smokers will be required to cough up the tax money.

“This is a tax that really would only apply to people who choose to participate in regulated marijuana,” Vicente said. “Those who do not purchase marijuana will not be subject to this tax.”

Pot tax supporters were asked whether they had concerns that competing tax questions on this year’s ballot could affect the passage of Prop AA — such as Initiative 22, which will ask voters to support more than $900 million in new taxes to overhaul the school finance system.

“I think these issues will rise and fall on their own merits,” said state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “I think our voters are discerning.”

Steadman also said that voters who supported Amendment 64 last November knew that the pot industry would have to be taxed.

Proposition AA supporters also said they were pleased with the federal government’s recent guidance on states that allow legalized pot. The Department of Justice issued a memo saying it would not seek to block recreational pot sales in states that allow it, so long as the retail pot industry abides by firm state regulations.

State Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, who sponsored the marijuana tax bill that led to Proposition AA, said the Legislature made “very responsible and very necessary first steps” in making sure the marijuana industry abides by a strict set of rules.

Singer, who worked as a drug counselor at Colorado State University, said that he understands “the effects of drugs.”

“I also understand the importance of having the funding available to make sure that our communities are safe and that we build better schools,” Singer said. “This is not just about making sure that we are protecting our communities, but making sure that marijuana pays its own way.”

The package of Amendment 64 legislation received bipartisan support at the Capitol this year. However, no Republican lawmakers attended the rally.

Pabon said his Republican colleagues are “on the record” with their support, and also noted Republican Attorney General John Suthers’ recent endorsement of the pot tax.

“As we move forward, you’ll be seeing more and more GOP support,” Pabon said.

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