Anti-marijuana tax Colorado campaigners hand out free joints

Brad Jones | Contributor

In a political landscape crowded by the 24-hour news cycle and national scandal, how can a local campaign compete for airtime? Handing out free marijuana is a good start.

At two rallies in the past month, the campaign against a proposed tax on Colorado’s nascent recreational marijuana industry has drawn support with the promise of free joints. Not surprisingly, demand was strong.

The political theater is in response to Proposition AA, placed on the November ballot by state lawmakers eager to cash in on the passage of Amendment 64 last year, which enshrined the legal use of recreational marijuana by adults in the state constitution.

A thriving medical marijuana industry has existed for years, but backers of last year’s amendment won over voters with a campaign that argued the relative safety of marijuana versus that other legal drug, alcohol.

The free pot, distributed at events in Denver — across from the state capitol — and Boulder, drew police attention but no arrests related to the distribution. Campaign flyers detail the campaigners’ anti-tax argument: A new state excise tax, plus a 15 percent surcharge on top of existing sales taxes, totals a nearly 32 percent retail sales tax for marijuana should Prop. AA pass. In cities like Denver, which is considering its own sales tax surcharge, taxes might total over 52 percent.

Boulder, well-known for its liberal politics, might appear to be an odd place for an anti-tax rally. However, the campaign for recreational marijuana has consistently broken stereotypes, with last year’s legalization initiative garnering a majority of support – although by just 10 votes – in conservative El Paso County, including Colorado Springs.

The protagonists on both sides of the tax question are Colorado political veterans, working together on successful passage of Amendment 64 but divided over the share government should take in the industry’s growth.

Attorneys Brian Vicente and Robert Corry, Jr. were co-authors of last year’s initiative, but are listed as registered agents of opposing campaigns this November.

The campaigns, Vicente’s Committee For Responsible Regulation and Corry’s No Over Taxation, demonstrate how politically sophisticated the marijuana industry has become in a short period.

The campaign against higher retail marijuana taxes isn’t just about money, though: the taxes collected would be directed to the state’s Department of Revenue, which already regulates medical pot. Campaign literature contemplates the creation of Colorado’s largest marijuana-focused police force.

“The DOR spent $10 million in three years and now we are to believe they need and should be trusted with $40 million?” asks one flyer pushing a no vote. But until November, smokers can enjoy a “free” toke while contemplating their vote.

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