Coloradans OK hefty taxes for legal pot

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado voters green-lighted a hefty tax on the sale of recreational marijuana Tuesday, approving the combined 25 percent statewide tax by an even bigger margin than they gave pot legalization the year before.

The measure was deemed to have passed handily by 9 p.m. by a margin of 65-35 percent, with 76 percent of precincts reporting. By comparison, voters passed Amendment 64 legalizing possession, use and sale of marijuana by 55-45 percent during the last election.

The new tax scheme will levy a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana when it’s sold from the grower to the retailer and another 10 percent special sales tax when it’s sold to customers at the cash register. Regular state and local sales taxes also apply.

Boulder, Denver and Littleton were all poised to pass their own additional taxes Tuesday night to be added to the statewide tax.

Opponents of the plan — who drew lots of attention to their protest rallies in the weeks leading up to the election by giving away free joints — say the taxes are too high and that they expose legal pot to the risk of being undercut by the black market.

But proponents say passage of the tax package will raise much-needed revenue to help regulate Colorado’s retail pot industry, a first in U.S. history. According to the amendment passed by voters during the last election, up to $40 million in revenue from the excise tax is earmarked for school construction — the Colorado Legislative Council estimated the excise tax to generate $27.5 million annually and the 10 percent sales tax to generate $39.5 million.

Starting Jan. 1, adults who are 21 or older will be able to buy pot at state-licensed pot shops. Although marijuana use and possession is still illegal under federal law, federal authorities have said they would keep their hands out of states that have voted to legalize it, as long as it’s strictly regulated. Washington also legalized marijuana in November 2012.

“Passage of this measure underscores the benefits of taxing and regulating marijuana sales instead of forcing them into the underground market,” said Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “Instead of benefitting drug cartels, marijuana sales will generate tens of millions of dollars annually for the state’s public school construction program.”

“Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to end marijuana prohibition and successfully regulate marijuana like alcohol,” he said. “It is only a matter of time before voters and lawmakers in other states recognize the benefits and adopt similar policies.”

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