Questions Remain About Amendment 64's Tax Component
DENVER—On Wednesday morning Mason Tvert, Brian Vicente and Betty Aldworth of Yes on 64 stood in Civic Center Park between the Colorado state capitol and Denver's city hall to clarify "next steps" after Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana through Amendment 64 to the state Constitution.
A statement issued by the campaign reiterated voters intentions and provided economic analysis from the Colorado Center on Law and Policy that estimates implementation could produce $60 million annually in combined savings and revenue for the Colorado state budget; a figure that could potentially increase to $120 million by 2017. The excise tax language that would raise some of that revenue remains to be determined by the state legislature, and would likely have to go back to Colorado voters for approval in compliance with TABOR (the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights).
When Amendment 64's organizers were asked if they've spoken with leaders in the state house or senate about implementing the bill, Aldworth said there have been, "Private conversations with state legislators and the Colorado national delegation on what it's going to take to implement the will of the voters."
Meanwhile, Vicente explained that language in the bill does mandate state action, however it has a dual licensing regime that also empowers local governments to institute their own licenses for retail locations that are expected to open in January 2014, regardless of state action.
I bumped into State Senator Rollie Heath (D-18), whose district includes Boulder, in front of the Capitol afterward, and asked him about Amendment 64. He did not give me a clear indication of how state legislators might respond.
There have been clearer signs of support from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper at Snell & Wilmer's "Fourth Annual Colorado Focus" late Wednesday afternoon. When asked about whether or not state and local law enforcement resources would be used to pursue possession or use of marijuana, he said it was "not likely," but it would depend on language in state legislation. Gov. Hickenlooper went on to explain, "When you see a vote like that, it's pretty clear what the people wanted. (The government) would be poor served to disregard it." (According to the latest data issued by the Secretary of State, Amendment 64 won by almost ten points, with 54.8% supporting and 45.2% opposed.)
The Colorado Department of Revenue will be responsible for implementing significant parts of the legislation for the executive branch. Aldworth later explained that the Medical Marijuana Division is expected to assume many of the enforcement duties.
This makes sense from a policy perspective, but intuitively Coloradans appear to have presumed the connection too. Yesterday KOAA News 5 reported, "Marijuana dispensaries (are being) overwhelmed with 'recreational' inquiries." Tanya Garduno, president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, explained that medical dispensaries are not allowed to sell recreationally right now. Interestingly, she say the industry is split 50-50 between dispensaries that want to serve recreation clients, and dispensaries that want to remain patient-oriented and provide medical grade marijuana.