In recent years, the state of Colorado has cultivated a booming marijuana industry after recreational use of the plant was legalized in January 2014. Recently, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a new budget bill that will see the large marijuana tax revenue used to create housing programs, fight addiction, rebuild schools and contribute to health programs.
In the first fiscal year following the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado, $70 million in marijuana tax was collected. This figure is nearly double that of tax revenue collected from alcohol sales in the same period. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, marijuana tax revenue in Colorado grew to $105 million, and will go entirely towards the “Marijuana Tax Cash Fund” which, as outlined in the bill, “expects to reduce incarceration, hospitalization and homelessness for many of Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Governor Hickenlooper signs the 2017-2018 budget bill.
Where are the funds allocated?
Colorado allocates $40 million in marijuana tax money into the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program every year. The money then goes to building new schools or improving them.
The budget bill for 2017-2018 also allocates $15.3 million of pot tax dollars towards “permanent supportive housing” and housing assistance for the homeless, or those considered at risk of losing their homes.
Colorado’s Department of Education received $9.7 million, to employ 150 health professionals in high schools across the state.
The Department of Human Services received $7.1 million, to help end “the use of jails for holding people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.”
Finally, $5.9 million went towards programs aiming to end illegal marijuana sales.
As outlined in a separate bill approved by Hickenlooper, $500,000 of the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund will also be allocated each year to a program that targets the opioid epidemic in Pueblo and Rout, the two counties of Colorado that are most hard hit by the surging opioid epidemic. The program will train nurse practitioners and physician assistants on how to prescribe medication and treatments for people in the midst of opioid addiction. It will also send support to local agencies in both counties to provide behavioral health therapy, along with the medical treatment, to opioid addicts.
Colorado’s innovative use of marijuana revenue sets an impressive example for the rest of a country that is divided over recreational marijuana laws. A small number of U.S. states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in recent years, including Oregon, Washington and California.
However, it’s still illegal federally. Under the Obama Administration, the federal enforcement of marijuana laws was relaxed in states where its use had been legalized, under the condition that the states in question would regulate the marketplace. However, under the Trump Administration, it’s possible that Obama’s efforts will be walked back. First, it is known that our Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates marijuana and could at some point crack down on it. In a previous statement, Whitehouse spokesman Sean Spicer also said the administration would change direction from Obama’s more permissive approach, repeatedly linking recreational marijuana use to worsening the nationwide opioid epidemic – a false claim often used by Republicans to justify their dislike of legal pot.