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Colorado Has Hit $1 Billion in Tax Revenue Since Marijuana Was Legalized

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Economics

Colorado Has Hit $1 Billion in Tax Revenue Since Marijuana Was Legalized

New numbers show Colorado is taking in more money than expected when it comes to cannabis revenues.

According to a new report released by Denver-based Vicente Sederberg LLP, the state of Colorado has collected more than $1 billion in marijuana-related taxes and fees.

The numbers became official when the Department of Revenue released its data on marijuana sales and revenue for April 2019. The report noted that April also happened to be the 64th month of marijuana sales following the implementation of Amendment 64 in January 2014 after the amendment was passed on Election Night 2012. In the years since $6.56 billion sales have taken place in Colorado, including more than $4.46 billion in adult-use sales and nearly $2.1 billion in medical sales, according to the report.

“Amendment 64 has clearly fulfilled its promise of raising significant new revenue for school construction projects,” said Vicente Sederberg founding partner Brian Vicente, a lead co-author of Amendment 64 who also chaired the committee in support of Proposition AA, the measure that implemented taxes on adult-use cannabis.

Vicente went on to note he never expected cannabis to be a one size fits all Band-Aid to Colorado’s problems, but it will certainly help the cause.

“We were never under the illusion that legalization would be a fiscal panacea, but we knew it would have a substantial and positive impact,” Vicente said. “Funds are being used on everything from building schools to hiring school health professionals and paying for bullying prevention programs.”

The bulk of the funds collected came in through the special sales tax. In total, the tax collected $558 million of the total revenue. The next biggest earner was the state excise tax on marijuana, which brought in a little bit more than a quarter billion at $261 million. The state’s standard sales tax brought in $126 million pot bucks. And finally, all the fees from licensing the cannabis industry amounted to $70 million.

“Generating tax revenue is not the only reason or even the best reason to regulate cannabis,” said Mason Tvert, who co-directed the Amendment 64 campaign and now serves as vice president of communications at VS Strategies, Vicente Sederberg’s public affairs consulting affiliate. “But when those revenues start adding up to more than $1 billion, as they have in Colorado, it’s a pretty attractive bonus. It’s crazy to think how much money states are flushing down the toilet by keeping marijuana in an illegal market.”

So where did the money go? All kinds of places, but a lot went to schools. Roughly 42% of all the funds collected since 2014 ended up in the public schools with the lion’s share going to the Capital Construction Assistance Fund. The construction fund received $194 million. Another $69 million ended up in the permanent public school fund.

The next biggest takes from the revenue went to treatment, prevention and other health services. All together those programs accounted for a quarter of the money. The report also noted funds were used to cover the costs of regulation, which accounts for a relatively small fraction of marijuana-related revenue. A portion of the tax revenue is also shared with local governments.

In the end, Amendment 64 has blown past some of the earliest guesstimates on what the final take would be for the state. Back in 2012, three months before the election, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy estimated legal cannabis would generate the state $32 million for its coffers and save another $12 million they wouldn’t need to send local governments. The report expected $60 million total in combined savings and new revenue with the potential for this number to double after 2017. In 2014 Colorado saw $67 million in income alone, never mind the additional savings. Last year the market was worth $266 million to the state, further crushing the 2017 expectations.

“Colorado is reaping the benefits of legalizing marijuana for adult use,” Widney Brown, managing director of policy for the Drug Policy Alliance said in a release. “We are seeing the dividend of ending prohibition. People’s lives are no longer being destroyed for the simple act of enjoying cannabis and the revenue is being invested into public health, education and prevention. It’s a win-win outcome.”

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