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Here's Where Colorado Spends Its Skyrocketing Pot Tax Revenue

The first state to legalize recreational adult use of marijuana is now funding a host of programs with the proceeds.
Image credit: Anthony Souffle | Getty Images
Guest Writer
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Colorado moved first into creating a regulated recreational marijuana system, and the state is starting to see the benefits in a huge way. According to numbers from the state, marijuana tax, license and fee revenue collected in 2016 almost hit the $200 million mark. To be exact: $198.5 million.

The money came off total marijuana sales of $1.3 billion. That’s a jump from $699.2 million in 2014 and $996.2 million in 2015.

Related: Congressional Cannabis Caucus Unites to Protect Marijuana Industry

That $1.3 billion number is expected to grow again in 2017. But where do state officials, who face problems with funding state programs, put the marijuana tax dollars?

How Colorado Spends Marijuana Money

Colorado charges three different taxes on marijuana sales: a 15 percent excise tax, a 2.9 percent tax on both medical and recreational sales, and a 10 percent “special sales tax” on retail sales. The state has a Marijuana Tax Cash Fund from which it distributes dollars. 

So where is the state using the tax dollars pouring in from pot? These places, based on appropriations approved by the state Legislature for fiscal year 2016-2017:

Related: The Many Ways the Cannabis Industry Lacks Traditional Marketing Expertise

Not a Fix For Budget Problems

Despite the big numbers from the marijuana tax, it is a small drop in the state’s $9.7 billion general fund. The total state budget expands to $26 billion budget when federal funds and other cash are included, according to Chris Stiffler with the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

Colorado has faced issues with finding money for the school system, among other areas. Stiffler noted that any kind of “vice tax” is never the cure-all that many imagine it will be, and that nothing replaces the time-tested model of taxes on income, sales and property.

“There’s no gimmicking our way out of this problem,” he wrote about the state’s budget issues.

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