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Marijuana: Proposed $3.25 million Denver tax boost, $2 million Denver Health pot-ed program

Yesterday afternoon, the Amendment 64 committee of the Denver City Council was scheduled to talk about a proposed retail marijuana tax ordinance, as well as a presentation by Denver Health for a pot-education program to be funded by the city.

How much money are we talking about? Plenty. According to two documents on view below, the target tax amount may be $3.25 million -- and expenses for the roll-out of the Denver Health program exceed $2 million.

The Amendment 64 Committee is chaired by councilman Charlie Brown, with Mary Beth Susman serving as vice chair. Other members include Chris Nevitt, Albus Brooks, Jeanne Faatz, Chris Herndon, Jeanne Robb, Robin Kneich, Paul López, Judy Montero, Debbie Ortega, Peggy Lehman and Susan Shepherd.

The ordinance draft, created for discussion purposes, suggests setting a city tax on marijuana of 2.5 percent -- and while that would be on top of a state sales tax of 10 percent (and a state excise tax of 15 percent), it's still a more modest add-on than those being discussed by the Boulder City Council. The Boulder officials are considering a 15 percent excise and a 10 percent sales tax of their own, raising at least the possibility of weed taxes exceeding 50 percent there.

However, the draft ordinance gives the Denver council the opportunity to jack up that 2.5 percent tax to 10 percent if it's deemed necessary. Here's proposed ballot language for the November election:

"SHALL CITY TAXES BE INCREASED BY [$3.25 MILLION] ANNUALLY IN THE FIRST FULL FISCAL YEAR AND BY SUCH AMOUNTS AS ARE RAISED ANNUALLY THEREAFTER BY IMPOSING AN ADDITIONAL SALES TAX OF 2.5% ON THE SALE OF RETAIL MARIJUANA AND RETAIL MARIJUANA PRODUCTS, WITH THE TAX REVENUES BEING USED TO FUND THE ENFORCEMENT OF REGULATIONS ON THE RETAIL MARIJUANA INDUSTRY, OTHER COSTS RELATED TO ENFORCEMENT OF MARIJUANA LAWS, EDUCATION AND PUBLIC HEALTH PROGRAMS ASSOCIATED WITH MARIJUANA CONSUMPTION INCLUDING PREVENTION OF UNDERAGE CONSUMPTION, AND OTHER CITY EXPENSES, WITH THE RATE OF THE TAX BEING ALLOWED TO BE INCREASED OR DECREASED WITHOUT FURTHER VOTER APPROVAL SO LONG AS THE RATE OF TAXATION DOES NOT EXCEED 10%, AND WITH THE RESULTING TAX REVENUE BEING ALLOWED TO BE COLLECTED AND SPENT NOTWITHSTANDING ANY LIMITATIONS PROVIDED BY LAW?"

The reference above to "education and public health programs associated with marijuana consumption including prevention of underage consumption" dovetails nicely into the Denver Health proposal, prepared under the leadership of DH chief government officer (and former city councilwoman) Elbra Wedgeworth. The document suggests three main missions: "Evaluate," "Educate" and "Provide Early Treatment."

And they don't come cheap.

Continue for more about the Denver Health proposal, including the original documents.

Here's the "Evaluate" pitch:

Develop a comprehensive monitoring system that includes data from electronic health records, hospital and emergency department visits, admissions to addiction programs, perceived risk of marijuana use among youth, and rates of school absenteeism and drop-out. These data will be used to provide detailed and meaningful records to policymakers, community based organizations, school officials and public and personal health care providers.

This is the "Educate" offering:

Develop a targeted media and education campaign including social media (Facebook, text-messaging, Twitter, YouTube). Youth should play a major role in identifying the messages, developing the content, and providing feedback.

And here's the "Early Treatment" description:

We propose evidence-based treatment that integrates primary care, mental health care and substance treatment into Denver's high-quality school-based health clinic system. An initial program would include full-time therapists, back-up from a child psychiatrist with expertise in addictions, and a program manager. After an initial investment, a program of vigorous outreach to school-aged children can become partly or largely self-funding through appropriate billing of the students' health insurance. This implementation will have a large public health impact on reducing substance use among youth.

An attached document entitled "Marijuana Tax Funds Surveillance and Treatment Program: Program Budget" estimates (in a handwritten addendum) that the total cost to Denver Health for marijuana-related diagnoses from April 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013 was $12,002,870 -- a figure presumably included to make the other dollar amounts seem like bargains in comparison. Example: The total expenses for the three phases of the Denver Health program, including personnel and non-personnel costs, are estimated at $2,203,274.

A further breakdown of the program budget makes specific mention of Dr. Christian Thurstone, an addiction specialist and member of the now-disbanded Amendment 64 advisory committee who's long warned about kids getting addicted to their medicine -- and more recently, he shared fears that pot users searching for bigger highs may begin exploring the possibility of injecting THC. Over a two-year period, Thurstone's "Pro Fee Revenue" is listed at $124,800.

To drill down further, read the documents in their entirety here.

Denver Health Marijuana Proposal

Marijuana Tax Ordinance Discussion Draft

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Could taxes on recreational pot in Boulder be as high as 50 percent?"