Cannabis Tax Revenue Provides $31 Million to Arizona Community Colleges

Taxes from recreational cannabis sales lend a huge helping hand to ten community colleges throughout the state of Arizona.

Ten community colleges in Arizona have recently received $31 million in funds from recreational cannabis taxes, the Associated Press reports. Arizona’s recreational cannabis law states that one-third of the 16 percent excise tax will be set aside for community colleges every year. Each college may use the funds to support “workforce development, STEM and certain other education programs.” The rest of the tax funds are earmarked for public safety, transportation and criminal justice.

Cochise College received $2 million and according to its President, J.D. Rottweiler, plans to put it toward its first responders academy. “It wouldn’t be done at the level that we’re now able to do because of those dollars coming in,” Rottweiler said. “It really allows us to springboard this initiative and move it quicker at a time when our frontline workers are greatly needed.”

Maricopa Community College is one of the largest in the state, having received $17.2 million. With those funds, it plans to pay for operations at its GateWay Community College, which offers many certificate programs in a variety of fields.

Arizona Western College received $1.7 million and according to spokesperson Mandy Heil, the funds will be allocated to update its facilities, including its “e-gaming, cybersecurity and allied health,” and also plans to restructure an old residence hall as a “living-learning facility.”

The remaining colleges received the following funds: Pima Community College ($3.9 million), Yavapai College ($1.4 million), Central Arizona College ($1.3 million), Mohave Community College ($1.1 million), Eastern Arizona College ($1 million), Coconino Community College ($930,000), Northland Pioneer College ($900,000) and the Gila and Santa Cruz County provisional community college districts ($228,000 and $112,000 respectively).

Collectively, these Arizona colleges received a little over $31 million, which is nearly the same amount of funds ($30 million) that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey had proposed to use in federal funding toward “workforce accelerators” on February 2. “Arizona’s community colleges are an integral part of the engine that drives our economic momentum. And boy, in Arizona do we have momentum,” said Ducey. “Community colleges in Arizona have not only been the secret sauce, but the secret weapon for our transformed economy.” The workforce accelerators will “form a network of job training centers to prepare Arizonans for next generation jobs.”

This is the first full year of legal cannabis sales in Arizona. The ballot initiative was voted on in November 2020 and the program began on January 21, 2021. Overall, Arizona residents spent $1.4 billion on recreational cannabis in 2021, according to the Arizona Department of Revenue, with approximately $650 million in cannabis recreational sales revenue. Arizona’s medical cannabis program has been established for over a decade now, and during 2021, only surpassed recreational sales during every month except two. In November 2021, recreational sales tax just barely managed to surpass medical sales tax, with $61.6 recreational and $61.4 medical. Then in December 2021, Arizona collected $63.8 million in recreational sales, compared to $53.5 million in medical cannabis sales.

Arizona was also recently included in the annual Americans for Safe Access “State of the States Report.” The ASA report revisits progress, or lack thereof, in each state in regards to recreational and medical cannabis programs. No states received an A this year, and only two received a B (Maine) and B minus (Illinois) but a large majority of states received some form of C grade, including Arizona with a C minus. According to the Phoenix New Times, Arizona’s cannabis programs are on the average scale. “Arizona’s C- rating places it in the middle of the pack, but in the top half, with 18 state programs better, 32 worse, and four others the same.” Among its weakest points, according to the ASA, is the state’s program administration. However, it did receive higher marks for “Patient rights and civil protections,” “Consumer Protection and Product Safety,” and “Access to medicine.”

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