Colorado to Vote on Increasing Cannabis Taxes in November

Colorado will be voting this November to see if it’s time to increase cannabis taxes in the state to help fund programs that benefit youth.

Enough signatures were submitted by Colorado advocates to get Initiative 25 onto the ballot this November, which, if passed, would increase recreational cannabis tax percentages and fund “out-of-school learning opportunities” for children and youth.

The Office of the Colorado Secretary of State announced on August 25 that Initiative 25 will proceed on to the ballot this November because a portion of the submitted signatures were verified as legitimate. A total of 124,632 valid signatures were required to proceed, and advocates submitted 203,335. 

“After reviewing a five-percent random sample of the submitted signatures, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office projected the number of valid signatures to be greater than 110 percent of the total number of signatures required for placement on the ballot,” the agency wrote in its “Statement of Sufficiency.” The statement concluded that the approximate number of valid signatures was 116.40 percent, it would be green-lit for ballot certification.

Initiative 25 is also referred to as the “Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program,” or LEAP, and is proposing a three percent increase in recreational cannabis taxes starting in 2022. If approved, it would further increase the tax to five percent by 2024. According to state analysts, the tax hike would help the state bring in an extra $137.6 million per year.

The initiative would also take $22 million per year from the state Permanent Fund and transfer it to the State Public School Fund, as well as take the same amount from the General Fund and move it to the LEAP Fund. The movement of these funds would be used to help pay for extra learning opportunities for kids, such as tutoring options, mental health services or other services for special-needs students.

“These learning opportunities, during periods and timeframes outside of their regular school schedules provide essential academic and life skills for children and youth to thrive in school and life,” reads the final draft of Initiative 25. “These learning opportunities are critical to maintaining and enhancing academic performance and mental, physical and emotional health for all children.”

“Colorado kids who were struggling in school before the pandemic are even farther behind now,” said the Colorado Children’s Campaign Policy and Partnerships Manager Stephanie Perez-Carrillo. “The LEAP initiative will make Colorado the first state in the country to offer a statewide approach to helping kids recover from current COVID losses, while also creating a long-term plan to prevent opportunity gaps from developing in the future.”

There are many reported supporters of Initiative 25. This includes 10 Senators, 11 State Representatives and many educational leaders and organizations. Former Senate President Bill Cadman is one of many who believes it’s essential to invest in the state’s children. 

“The LEAP initiative is an excellent opportunity to provide tutoring, test preparation, enrichment programs and more to Colorado students who often have the greatest needs, yet limited family resources,” said Cadman. “Providing every student in Colorado with out-of-school benefits which can be tailored to their specific needs should help them overcome academic setbacks exacerbated by COVID.”

However, tax increases of any kind are bound to be met with opposition as well. While funding youth services is worthwhile, organizations like the Colorado Freedom Force believe that Initiative 25 would only benefit the wealthy.

Colorado has garnered a strong history of cannabis sales revenue and tax data since the state’s legalization bill was passed in 2012. The most recent reports of the state’s collection reveal that Colorado has surpassed over $10 billion in total sales so far.

The same reports show that since 2012, 16.4 percent of the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund went toward education initiatives. In 2018, an estimated $20 million in grant funds was given to school health professionals, literacy programs and dropout/bullying prevention.

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