GARFIELD COUNTY—Among the three state questions on the ballot during this year’s general election is Amendment 64 in which local voters and those across the state will determine whether Colorado will allow for the legal use of marijuana. If the amendment passes, law enforcement will be affected as departments shift to focus on other criminal activity, and the general assembly will be able to implement a hefty tax on wholesale marijuana and industrial hemp sales.
This is the second time in less than a decade Colorado is voting on legalizing marijuana. The state is not alone. Similar bills are also being put forth in Oregon and Washington state.
Colorado narrowly rejected a similar pot legalization initiative in 2006, though at that time, the medical use of marijuana in the state had not yet shaken out, nor had the economic factors weighed in as heavily as they currently have. This time around, as the state and country works to get traction following the economic downturn, the monetary upsides can appear to be attractive enough to gain support for the bill, even among conservative members of the electorate.
Amendment 64 would permit a person 21 years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana; provide for the licensing of cultivation facilities, product and testing facilities; and permit local governments to regulate or prohibit such facilities. The bill’s passage would also require the Colorado general assembly to enact an excise tax to be levied upon wholesale sales of marijuana and require the first $40 million in revenue raised annually by the tax be credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund.
Key marijuana economic statisticsAccording to the US Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the legalization of marijuana still violates federal law. If passage of these measures takes place in any or all states, some warn that it will lead to a "constitutional showdown,” as federal law maintaining the illegality of the drug still preempts state law.
- Colorado earned more than $5 million in pot sales tax in 2011
In 2011, Colorado pulled in $5 million in sales taxes from medical marijuana businesses, according to The New York Times.
- The City of Oakland, Calif. raised more than $1 million in marijuana tax revenue
Oakland raised $1.3 million in tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011 – three percent of the city's total business tax revenue, according to The New York Times.
- Legal marijuana could be a $100 billion industry
Economist Stephen Easton estimated in 2010 that legal marijuana could be a $45 to $100 billion industry, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
- California’s marijuana crop is worth $14 billion yearly
Marijuana growers account for $14 billion a year in sales in California, making it the state's most valuable cash crop, TIME reports.
- Illegal marijuana is a $36 billion a year industry
It's estimated that illegal marijuana is a $36 billion industry in the US, MadameNoire reports.
Now, with just days before the election, the Department of Justice has yet to announce its enforcement intentions and federal lawmakers seem to be awaiting the mandates at the state level to take up positions on this ongoing and controversial issue.
‘Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’
In a statement made to the Huffington Post, Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol – the group behind Colorado's Amendment 64 – hailed the economic factors, claiming that decentralization moving toward state-controlled markets will make the difference to voters this time around.
“The nation wastes billions of taxpayer dollars annually on the failed policy of marijuana prohibition,” stated Tvert. “This is an election about Colorado law and whether the people of Colorado believe that we should continue wasting law enforcement resources to maintain the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.
“Our nation was founded upon the idea that states would be free to determine their own policies on matters not delegated to the federal government,” he continued. “The Controlled Substance Act itself acknowledges that Congress never intended to have the federal government fully 'occupy the field' of marijuana policy. We hope the Obama administration respects these state-based policy debates.”
Surprising backers of 64
According to recent surveys, Colorado and Washington's pot ballot measures are both winning. A recent SurveyUSA poll asked likely Colorado voters about Amendment 64. The poll revealed a five-point advantage coming out in favor of the bill at 48 percent to 43 percent, though that result was narrower than the 11-point lead in the same SurveyUSA poll five weeks earlier.
The economic factors of passing the bill are compelling. According to the Associated Press, analysts project that that tax revenue could generate somewhere between $5 million and $22 million a year in the state. According to economist Christopher Stiffler at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the number could be as large as $60 million dollars added to state coffers by 2017.
The study also concludes that a windfall of $12 million in instant savings will occur in the year following legalization because of reduced legal, court and prison costs. Annual savings (compared to a pre-legalization year’s budget) will approach nearly $40 million once the legal system adjusts to the decrease in crimes eliminated by the bill’s passage.
An estimated $24 million in new tax revenue generated from excise taxes on wholesalers will go directly to the Colorado Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, which will help create over 372 new jobs from school construction projects on behalf of Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today Program, according to the study.
With those numbers, it’s no surprise Amendment 64 is receiving support from both sides of the aisle in Colorado. Many members of both parties have abandoned the former partisan stances and gotten behind the bill out of its pure economic upside. At least two prominent Republicans, including U.S. Senate candidate Michael Baumgartner and former Rep. Tom Tancredo, have come out in support of the bill. Tancredo, a five-term member of the House of Representatives (1999-2009), came out this month in favor Amendment 64, arguing that government should not interfere with people's choice to use marijuana.
A local grower’s take: Passage of 64 ‘could impact my business’
Ironically, one Garfield County marijuana grower (called “Caregivers” by state officials) who wished to remain anonymous has come out against Amendment 64 for several key reasons.
“Legalization at the state level without a federal mandate does nothing to provide me with a sense of security,” said the area resident and licensed medical marijuana provider. “Until federal legislation protects me against arrest, I still have to operate the gray legal area the state currently allows for caregivers. It’s no secret that building more prisons to lock up growers is still the economic factor driving the continuing prohibition for the federal government.”
“Additionally, if the bill passes, anyone who wants to will be allowed to grow, and that could impact my business, at least in the short term — until the average Joe realizes that growing medical-grade product is the result of years of study, trial and error, and around-the-clock monitoring,” the grower continued. “This is far harder than it seems, and requires a significant knowledge base, labor and investment. We’re not growing tulips here.”
Watch for part two of this series: Talking to Glenwood’s dispensaries