For a few frantic hours Monday night, it seemed like tough-on-pot senators in the Colorado legislature were going to make good on their threat to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow voters to repeal parts of a marijuana legalization amendment if they didn’t also pass a tax measure funding regulation of this new industry.
But the measure failed.
The proposal would have posed two questions to voters — one asking for approval of two special taxes on recreational marijuana and another stripping the state constitution of provisions that allow for retail pot stores if the first question failed.
Two-dozen senators backed the plan, which was supported by an anti-marijuana group called Smart Colorado.
With just two days left in the legislative session, the proposal was introduced at 6 p.m., the very last minute possible to allow it to be heard and voted on in committee and in both Democratic-controlled chambers before the midnight Wednesday deadline.
An hour after it was introduced, it passed a Senate committee on a 4-1 vote and was due for first reading in the full Senate before midnight.
The Denver Post reports that the proposal caused a panic among the many marijuana advocates staying late at the capitol. People scrambled to find paper copies of the proposal (it wasn’t immediately posted on the Senate website) and to sign up to testify against it.
Those opposed to the measure have said anti-marijuana groups would campaign for a “no” vote on the tax plan in order to kill retail sales, which is included as part of the broad marijuana legalization package in Amendment 64, which voters approved in November by a 55-45 percent margin.
But Senate President John Morse never introduced the proposal before adjourning at 9:30 p.m., effectively killing the bill.
He told the Post that the measure was an attempt to force pro-pot voters to support the taxes needed to regulate it.
“If the tax measure is unsuccessful in November, the taxpayers will be left holding the bag,” he said. “And I can assure you that the Colorado legislature will take up this issue again if that happens.”
The turmoil Monday underscores how frantic lawmakers will be in the final 48 hours of the session. The tax proposal — which would levy a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales from cultivators to retailers and a 10 percent tax at the retail counter — must pass the Senate by midnight Tuesday in order to make tomorrow’s deadline.
Another bill regulating how marijuana stores can operate faces the same time crunch.
Since Amendment 64 requires the legislature to pass marijuana regulations and offer a tax scheme to voters, lawmakers opposed to retail marijuana can’t just let the clock run out. If the session-ending deadline passes without bills being presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature, he will likely call for a special session to complete the work.
A special session last year cost taxpayers $23,500 per day. Lawmakers have said they would finish their work on time this year.
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