DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday said now is not the time to consider marijuana tax revenue as a new funding source for Colorado.
The governor made his remarks while presenting a proposed budget to state lawmakers. His office has recommended $373 million in cuts to address a shortfall that exists because of a constitutional cap on how much money state government can grow each year.
“This whole notion of legalizing recreational marijuana should not be addressed and ... analyzed as this is a source of new revenue, that this is going to help us build roads, or this is going to help us expand other worthy programs,” Hickenlooper said.
The governor’s office maintains that the money should be spent on enforcement and controlling the “grand social experiment” that is legalization.
Marijuana funding has been directed toward school construction, enforcement, drug-abuse treatment, regulation and youth drug-prevention efforts, as opposed to more general spending.
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, questioned whether there might be a larger vision for how to utilize the new stream of dollars.
“Should this one sin tax be used to pay for a multitude of other people’s sins?” Steadman asked, pointing out that marijuana dollars may be spent on treatment efforts for people who don’t even consume cannabis.
“Do we really think that ... sin taxes from marijuana should be the only resource we bring to bear?” Steadman continued, highlighting that alcohol and prescription drug abuse are a larger part of the treatment issue.
Hickenlooper added: “We have continued to ask and to work with all of you to keep the tax revenues really focused on ... the potential unintended consequences of legalization.”
Legalization supporters have touted marijuana as a revenue stream for governments. When Colorado voters in 2012 legalized marijuana, they directed the first $40 million toward school construction.
Voters earlier this month approved a ballot question allowing the state to retain $66.1 million in revenue stemming from marijuana taxes collected in fiscal year 2014-15. Beyond the school construction dollars, $12 million will be spent on youth programs and marijuana education. The remainder will be allocated by the Legislature.
It’s unclear just how much marijuana money the state will have from the current fiscal year, but estimates are as high as $80 million.
Given the influx of cash, along with the current budget constraints, Colorado taxpayers have been asking elected officials why cannabis money can’t be used to help close shortfalls.
“The biggest question that I’ve heard is why aren’t we using the marijuana dollars,” said Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada.
“The general public doesn’t understand, and gets really caught into the politics of this, and gets caught into the confusion around why we don’t have money for transportation, why we don’t have money for education, why we don’t have money for mental health services, why we don’t have money for developmental-disability services, but at the same time, we have all this money pouring into our system through marijuana,” Kraft-Tharp continued.
Hickenlooper’s budget director, Henry Sobanet, tried to curb expectations.
“I think it might get a disproportionate share of people’s mindset of our budget,” he said.