Ask a Stoner

Ask a Stoner, 4/20 edition: Pot critic William Breathes answers your cannabis queries

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But many small-business owners say that they would rather leave the growing to the experts and not have that overhead to manage. "We just don't need it — it's garbage; it's anti-free market," says Rico Colibri, founder of the Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education, a group that was against Amendment 64 but now lobbies for looser regulations than currently exist for medical marijuana. "The only thing that's going to keep the feds out is by making it so big and so valuable that it can't go. I think that vertical [integration] was just complete nonsense made up by some of these industry groups."

Many growers and business owners in the medical marijuana industry have been saying all along that they would rather focus on cultivation and wholesale and let someone else worry about the retail business. They, too, argue that vertical integration would only protect the interest of existing medical marijuana businesses looking to transition to the general retail market. "As more patients consolidated into fewer rural retail options in the face of federal letters and local bans, the remaining centers found that their sales often outpaced the harvest capacity of their existing [grow facilities]," says activist Jessica LeRoux, owner of Twirling Hippy Confections. "This meant that in order to remain compliant, they would need to expand their [grow], but there simply was no warehouse space to expand with. This forced smaller mom-and-pop-center owners under the not-so-green thumb of the big conglomerates who had leased huge warehouses in anticipation of the protectionist monopoly they would eventually enjoy under vertical integration."

Due to heavy lobbying efforts by Colibri and other small-business owners, the committee pulled a 180. Rather than recommend vertical integration, it voted in favor of a delineated system of growers, distributors and retailers. Retailers would be able to grow their own or could purchase everything they sell in bulk from independent growers. The system is not unlike how a brewpub can make its own beer and also purchase other alcohol in bulk to stock the rest of the bar.

Dear Stoner: Amendment 64 called for taxing it, right? How much coin is The Man making off my plant, and where is all that dough going to go?

Tax policies are still up in the air. The current proposal is for a 15 percent excise tax and a 15 percent sales tax on top of existing city and state taxes. Amendment 64 requires the excise tax, with the first $40 million collected annually going to schools. The sales tax would go to the Department of Revenue to fund enforcement, and additional revenue — if it exists — would be earmarked for public-education campaigns on the health issues of marijuana. If those levels are approved, the overall tax rate would approach the 40 percent mark in cities like Denver. So for a $200 ounce, you could be paying an additional $80 in taxes.

While marijuana activists are divided on many issues, the tax debate has brought them together. While most agree that taxes should pay for industry regulations, they're also concerned that if the tax rate is too high, people will go to black-market sales.

"While I do think there needs to be a tax — I think we need to be able to pay the cost of regulating the product — it shouldn't be at the cost of making our regulations fail," says Mason Tvert, co-author of Amendment 64. "They can say that a regular sales tax won't generate enough revenue. Okay, decent point. But it's like all of a sudden the only people who should worry about paying for controlling marijuana are the consumers and the businesses, when for years the state has paid to so-call 'control' marijuana and failed. They are willing to spend money to enforce prohibition. So if the state believes that we can better regulate it and sell it in stores, then it should be something the state should invest in as a means for controlling marijuana."

The catch is that voters would have to approve the taxes because of TABOR, since Amendment 64 wasn't written to create a tax.

Dear Stoner: I want in on this business at the ground level and want to move to Colorado to open my own marijuana store. Where do I sign up?

To own a business, someone has to have been a resident for at least two years, though a business employee only needs to be a resident at the time he or she submits an application for a clearance badge through the DOR. There is talk that out-of-state investments may be allowed, but that is not included in the current recommendations.

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes