Andrea Merida, new Denver Green Party co-chair, urges "no" vote on marijuana taxes

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Outgoing Denver Public Schools board member Andrea Merida, once an active member of the Democratic party in Denver, is now co-chair of the 1,800-member Denver Green Party.

And in that capacity, Merida, seen here, is speaking out on two ballot measures: Proposition AA and Referred Question 2A. Both deal with marijuana taxes, an issue Merida says is important to a segment of the population that the Green Party is trying to reach -- namely "the young, working-class voter."

"This is something that they're disproportionately affected by," Merida says, explaining that there's a stigma attached to marijuana that's "very race-based and very class-based."

"These are people who are not served by the system and are not reached out to by the two major parties," she adds. "We're serious about talking for people who don't have a voice."

The Denver Green Party does not support Proposition AA or Referred Question 2A, and is recommending that voters vote "no." Here are excerpts from the party's explanation:

Proposition AA

The claim of proponents of Proposition AA is that passage would fulfill the wishes of the voters as represented in Amendment 64, now Article 18, Section 16 of the Constitution of the State of Colorado, which states:

"...the people of the state of Colorado find and declare that the use of marijuana should be legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol."

Current beer taxes are 8 cents per gallon plus 8 percent sales tax.

Proposition AA would raise excise (wholesale) tax to 15% and would allow the state legislature to impose at least a 10% sales tax but as much as 15%. Simple math shows a drastic disparity of taxation levied on recreational marijuana sales and consumption, which we do not believe is a "manner similar to alcohol."

We do not believe that a tax increase of 30%, when beer is only at 16%, is a demonstration of "similar."

Denver's Referred Question 2A

This question, upon passage, would authorize the Denver City Council to immediately apply a tax of 3.5% on all recreational marijuana sales but also gives authorization to apply an additional tax up to a total of 15% as the council sees fit.

The purpose of the tax, according to the drafters of the question, is to pay for:

  • Direct and indirect expenses related to licensing and regulation of the retail marijuana industry
  • Enforcement of marijuana laws in general
  • Educational and health programs on the "negative consequences" of using marijuana or related products
  • Programs to keep young people under 21 from using or buying
  • Upkeep and operation of the city and its facilities

Should recreational marijuana users contribute to the general well-being of the city in which they live? Of course they should, and that should include paying sales taxes. But just as in the case of Proposition AA, we do not believe that an additional tax of up to 18.5% is a legitimate expression of the people's wishes in the Constitution, when Denver's current tax code specifies a 4% tax on liquor sales.

Continue for more of our interview with Andrea Merida. Due to the late timing, Merida, who says she doesn't use marijuana herself, believes these are likely the only two ballot questions on which the Denver Green Party will take a stance this election. "Ballots have already dropped, so it's a little late," she notes.

But she's looking forward to growing the Green Party in the future. "They reach out to the very same people I'm accustomed to working with -- economically disenfranchised people, people of color," Merida says. "The political machines don't care about them."

The Democratic Party, Merida says, "has really become more and more corporatized, and it's gotten to where critical thinking isn't being used.... What we see in Denver is a lot of cronyism and people making deals. They're not thinking about the people of Denver who clean it, teach it, fix it and keep it healthy. There are a lot of people out there who don't have a voice. I'm never one to be comfortable with that situation."

An example of that corporatization, she says, is Democrats' support of education reform strategies that include opening more charter schools and administering more standardized tests -- strategies that she says negatively affect low-income students.

After serving four years, Merida is not running for re-election to the DPS school board. She explained why in a blog post on her website: "I believe that high-stakes standardized testing is destroying public education today," she wrote. "Simultaneously, giant dollars from outside Denver, and outside Colorado, flood into local school board races. In good conscience, I will not continue to be a part of this system."

More from our Politics archive: "DPS school board race fundraising: Who's getting big bucks from Phil Anschutz?"

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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