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A sign celebrates the day at the Botana Care marijuana store just before opening the doors to customers for the first time in Northglenn, Colorado January 1, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking A sign celebrates the day at the Botana Care marijuana store just before opening the doors to customers for the first time in Northglenn, Colorado January 1, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking  

Pot pays: Colorado posts first official marijuana tax totals

Colorado collected $3.5 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in January, according to the state Department of Revenue, a figure that includes both recreational and medical sales.

Recreational sales accounted for $1.4 million collected from a special 10 percent point-of purchase tax and $195,000 in a 15 percent excise tax. The first $40 million raised from the excise tax is required to be spent on school construction and maintenance, but how the sales tax revenue will be spent is still up for debate.

Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed a marijuana revenue-spending package last month that’s heavy on drug education and rehabilitation efforts. Colorado’s police chiefs are lobbying for a larger percentage of the windfall for “marijuana enforcement,” a request that many advocates of legal marijuana have questioned, considering pot is legal for adults.

The official tally of tax revenue is less than what was projected by Hickenlooper’s office, if the pace were to remain the same throughout the year.

But the revenue department said it would be difficult to project annual returns without more data — January’s collection came from 59 businesses around the state, a fraction of the number expected to be operational by year’s end. The number of businesses approved to sell legal pot by the end of January was only 3 percent of the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries, the only businesses currently eligible to convert to retail sales.

“Tax and fee revenue collections in the first few months of 2014 will be significantly affected in both directions by a number of variables,” the department noted in a news release, “including but not limited to: the speed of local approval processes; the availability of supply; and a possible increase in initial demand.”

“The first month of sales for recreational marijuana fell in line with expectations,” Department of Revenue Executive Director Barbara Brohl said in the release. “We expect clear revenue patterns will emerge by April and plan to incorporate this data into future forecasts.”

Advocates for legalizing marijuana hailed the figures as those pushing for federal changes to marijuana laws plan to lobby Congress in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

“The month of January showed the world that taking marijuana off the streets and putting it behind a taxed, regulated counter can be done professionally, productively and prosperously,” said Aaron Smith, the director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a statement. “Now it’s time for Congress to reconcile outdated federal laws with those of states like Colorado that have decided to opt out of the failed experiment of marijuana prohibition.”

Organizers will be joined by a bipartisan trio of lawmakers who have taken the lead in calling for reform of federal marijuana laws, under which, possession, consumption, sales and cultivation remain illegal. They include Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California and Democrats Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado.

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