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Marijuana: John Hickenlooper's tax spending plan is anti-pot, pro-booze, advocates say

Doubts about whether demand for recreational marijuana would cover the cost of the program put in place to regulate its sale appear to have been unfounded, at least during its early stages.

Evidence comes via Governor John Hickenlooper, who's come up with a plan to spend recreational-pot tax revenues: $4.5 million this fiscal year and a heaping $99 million the next. But proponents of the amendment that made such sales possible are aghast at his proposal, which they call anti-pot and pro-booze.

There's some irony in Hickenlooper being the beneficiary of this windfall beyond his past as a tavern owner. He actively opposed Amendment 64, the measure that allows adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana. And while he reacted to the measure's passage with at least a modicum of humor, cracking that it was too soon to break out the Cheetos and Goldfish, he has since worked overtime to stress that he's no cheerleader for legal weed.

A meme that circulated shortly after Amendment 64's passage.
A meme that circulated shortly after Amendment 64's passage.

Last month, for instance, Hickenlooper talked pot with the New York Times' Maureen Dowd, and during the conversation, he said he hadn't smoked cannabis for decades because "it makes you slow down and clumsy," and emphasized that "I wouldn't do it even if I was completely by myself in the forest or whatever."

In addition, Hickenlooper denigrated the idea that the state should be dependent on tax revenue from a product that doesn't make the lives of people better even as he teased a campaign to keep teenagers from indulging.

This last plan has now been unveiled. We've included Hickenlooper's complete proposal below, but in general, his office suggests spending the aforementioned $100 million-plus, supplemented by "$29 million in enforcement money already planned for this year and next," like so:

• Youth marijuana use prevention and deterrence ($45.5 million); • Substance abuse treatment ($40.4 million); • Public health ($12.4 million); • Regulatory oversight ($1.8 million); • Law enforcement and public safety ($3.2 million); and • Statewide coordination ($200,000)

The reactions from Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert and attorney Brian Vicente, the most prominent backers of Amendment 64, aren't filled with atta-boys.

Continue for more about Governor John Hickenlooper's proposal for marijuana tax revenue spending, including responses from critics, photos and the document itself.  

Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, has also weighed in. His take is quite politic, but it falls short of being a ringing endorsement:

"We appreciate the careful consideration that went into the Governor's spending formula, though we have concerns.

"It is imperative the Department of Revenue is funded adequately so it can vigorously enforce state regulations and ensure that everyone in the industry is abiding by the rules.

"We also believe there is a role for the state in solving the banking crisis - whether that is through setting up a state bank, creating a task force, or some other means. The banking issue is creating a grave public safety problem and if Congress refuses to act, the state must take action.

"The Cannabis Industry endorsed, funded, and ran the campaign to increase marijuana taxes. We did this primarily to protect public safety, and to ensure that Colorado has sufficient resources to responsibly implement this new regulatory scheme.

"The Cannabis Industry may already be the most heavily taxed industry in the country. The tax burden from the federal government is particularly harsh due to the IRS denying us normal business tax deductions.

"Nonetheless, we are dedicated to the success of this program, and welcome continued partnerships with Governor Hickenlooper, the Colorado General Assembly, the City of Denver, and other community leaders."

Here's the Hickenlooper spending proposal.

Governor John Hickenlooper Marijuana Revenue Spending Proposal

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa January 29: "John Hickenlooper: I wouldn't smoke pot if I was alone in a forest."


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