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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pot Tax Goes To Colorado Voters

Marijuana is on the November ballot in Colorado – again. Last year, voters legalized the use of recreation pot. This time it’s about taxes.

The state and some local governments are asking voters to impose hefty taxes on recreational marijuana. The issue has split the marijuana community and united some strange bedfellows.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Ben Markus of Colorado Public Radio reports.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

Marijuana is on the November ballot in Colorado again. Last year, voters there approved a law allowing for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. This year, voters are being asked how much to tax it on a state and, in some cases, local level. The taxes proposed are hefty, and the issue has split the marijuana community and united some strange bedfellows.

From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus has more.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: Here's something you don't see every day: A line of people waiting to get free marijuana rolled into joints while Denver Police look on.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Could we start handing out some marijuana?


MARKUS: This giveaway near Denver Beer Company in downtown Denver was put on by the group opposing taxes on recreational marijuana. Attorney Rob Corry is with the campaign, and he helped write Amendment 64 to legalize recreational pot last year. The campaign was built around the slogan: Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

ROB CORRY: We wanted a system where it was treated like alcohol. That was how the drafters, myself included, sold it to the voters. We want to treat this like the Denver Beer Company with their beer right there.

MARKUS: If state and local ballot measures pass, pot taxes could be three times the rate for alcohol. And Corry says that defeats the purpose of legalizing it.

CORRY: When you overtax something, you create a black market and an underground market that is not taxed and not regulated in any way.

MARKUS: Corry chose to give joints away at the Denver Beer Company because inside, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was the featured speaker at a fundraiser for the campaign supporting the taxes on recreational marijuana. Campaign spokesman Rick Ridder says, if passed, the money will pay for things like school construction.

RICK RIDDER: But more importantly, it's a tax that will assure that we keep the federal government out of Colorado.

MARKUS: By making sure there's plenty of money to fund enforcement of the industry, which has been the chief problem in regulating medical marijuana.

GINA CARBONE: Our example of regulating it thus far has failed miserably, both on the state and city level.

MARKUS: Concerned mom Gina Carbone was a vocal opponent of Amendment 64 but supports the taxes.

CARBONE: Hopefully, we're raising some funds to actually get this regulated.

MARKUS: The state taxes could bring in an estimated $67 million a year. Denver is also seeking a pot tax of its own, championed by Mayor Michael Hancock, who also campaigned against Amendment 64.

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK: I'm definitely very concerned about, you know, the fact that we've now legalized it, what the impacts will be on our children.

MARKUS: But he's for an additional 3.5 percent sales tax that will bring in an estimated three and a half million dollars annually to city coffers. Some say that's too high. Hancock says it's better than starting too low.

HANCOCK: Then to have to come back and say, you know what, we've been stealing from other existing programs and priorities in order to cover this - the implementation of this new opportunity. And we just simply are not going to do that. I'd rather be smart about it.

MARKUS: There's lots of debate about what the proper rate should be.

KRISTI KELLY: Certainly, there's going to be a level. There's going to be a number that we hit that is too high for the consumer base to take.

MARKUS: Kristi Kelly is a co-founder of the medical dispensary Good Meds.

KELLY: And that will then have the consequence of driving the black market. But we don't know what that number is.

MARKUS: She says it's likely that medical patients will stay with medical, which won't be subject to these new taxes. On the medical marijuana market, prices are historically low. Kelly says even though a tax rate around 30 percent may seem like a lot, it will make a typical purchase of an eighth of an ounce of marijuana go from $30 to about $38.

KELLY: You're really - I mean, you're still within the range of something that's very reasonable. You're not breaking the bank.

MARKUS: Kelly and most of the marijuana businesses support the taxes. And how many industries in this day and age support a tax on themselves? For HERE AND NOW, I'm Ben Markus in Denver.

YOUNG: And we have a quick note. Tomorrow on HERE AND NOW, has pumpkin jumped the shark? It's everywhere, it's in your latte, it's in your pasta sauce. But it's usually not really pumpkin, and it is not going away, as we'll hear when we speak to a food scientist. That's tomorrow. You're listening to HERE AND NOW Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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