Fans of marijuana have long asserted the drug is not addictive. They have nonetheless demonstrated a keen understanding of dependency and are well on their way to having Colorado state government thoroughly strung out.
Government, of course, does not actually smoke dope. But its drug of choice – money – is, if anything, more habit forming. And legalized-marijuana sales are fueling that addiction at a pace well in excess of expectations.
In the run-up to last fall’s election, in which Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana, supporters of the ballot initiative claimed taxes on pot sales would generate $70 million per year in revenue for the state. In fact, a budget proposal released Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper shows the state is on track to take in $98 million in the next fiscal year from sales and excise taxes on marijuana.
That is over and above the $40 million an additional excise tax on marijuana is supposed to generate for school construction.
Hickenlooper plans to spend the marijuana windfall on six programs. The list includes money for youth marijuana-use prevention, substance-abuse treatment, public health, a statewide media campaign on pot use, an effort to fight driving while high and 105 more beds in residential treatment centers.
He says, “We view our top priority as creating an environment where negative impacts on children from marijuana legalization are avoided completely.”
Fine – but look at what his spending list does not include: education, highways, prisons, public safety or any other areas where governors and legislators typically want to spend money. How long will that last?
The governor’s idea of insulating children from marijuana notwithstanding, the more likely outcome is that, over time, the Legislature will see that almost $100 million revenue stream as irresistible and use it as it would any other funds. Given the state’s needs, that is an entirely defensible idea.
But with that, money from pot sales will be woven into the state’s budget, its plans and its future. And no one will ever want to give it up.
Another $100 million for the state’s budget is certainly welcome, particularly in that most of us will never contribute to it. But make no mistake: Colorado is in the marijuana business now and is not about to back out.