The question comes up all the time: Where is the marijuana money going?
During more than six years of legal pot sales, Colorado has collected over $1.37 billion from marijuana taxes — and that $1.37 billion is just at the state level. Local governments that allow marijuana sales also impose local taxes, and as Colorado's largest city and the capital of the cannabis industry in this state, Denver has gained a sizable chunk of funding since commercializing the plant.
Since January 2014, Denver has collected approximately $294.5 million in marijuana tax revenue, according to the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, which monitors marijuana taxes and license fees, as well as how that revenue is eventually spent by the city. But not all of that money goes directly to taxpayer benefits: Regulation and enforcement, state revenue sharebacks and youth marijuana use prevention all take cuts before the rest flows to projects like city infrastructure improvements.
Marijuana Deals Near You
From 2014 to 2019, about $29 million of the city's pot tax revenue was spent on marijuana regulation and enforcement, according to Excise and Licenses; youth prevention got $16 million during the same period. Those were the only three areas outside of the general fund earmarked for marijuana tax revenue until 2017, when affordable housing ($16 million from 2017 to 2019), opioid intervention ($3.1 million in 2019) and city capital improvements ($19 million from 2018 to 2019) all came in for their cuts.
Affordable housing's funding bump from 2018 to 2019 came from a 2 percent special marijuana sales tax the city approved in 2018, with over $11 million of marijuana tax revenue going to affordable-housing efforts in 2019 alone, helping to build units like Moline Apartments, a new affordable-housing complex in Stapleton.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But spending marijuana funds is more complicated than earmarking a few million dollars for "enforcement," as multiple city departments play roles in not just enforcement, but education and public-health efforts. For example, the Denver City Attorney's Office required more marijuana money from law enforcement funding ($1.36 million) in 2019 than the Denver Police Department ($1.1 million), while the Denver Office of Children's Affairs, which is in charge of running after-school and summer programs, gained almost $1.6 million from educational funding.
After marijuana tax revenue funds youth prevention, law enforcement, regulation, affordable housing and several other earmarked areas, the remaining cash is sent to the city's general fund. In 2019, that amounted to less than $15,000.
Here's the breakdown: