Marijuana: Colorado NORML board opposes recreational pot tax measure

Earlier this week, Miguel Lopez, organizer of the annual 4/20 rally, expressed his opposition to Measure AA, the taxation proposal for recreational marijuana up for vote in November, by staging a Civic Center rally at which attendees were given free joints.

The Colorado chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) reached the same conclusion: They, too, oppose Measure AA. Board member Sean McAllister explains why.

According to attorney and activist McAllister, the proximity of Colorado NORML's announcement to Lopez's Civic Center gathering "was coincidental. We didn't know about the event on Monday; there's no affiliation, and NORML's board has been discussing the issue for weeks. But the Monday event did remind us that the issue is becoming important to focus on now."

As McAllister points out, NORML members took part in Governor John Hickenlooper's Amendment 64 task force, and he says concerns about excessive taxation have been shared throughout the process that led to the establishment of proposed levels: a 15 percent excise tax, plus a 10 percent state sales tax that can be increased to 15 percent if revenues fall short of covering costs. However, he says, the board's feelings "were brought to a head now. With a month and a half or two months from the election, people deserve to know what our position is on the issue."

Hence, a press release that lays out three main complaints about the measure. They're laid out as follow:

1. Measure AA is excessive taxation on marijuana consumers that does not uphold the promise of Amendment 64 to treat marijuana like alcohol. The proposed marijuana taxes could amount to an effective tax rate of 30-40% ultimately passed on to marijuana consumers in Colorado. This rate is more than twice the equivalent taxes on alcohol. While we can support the 15% excise tax portion of Measure AA, included in the language of Amendment 64, we feel that the addition by the Colorado Legislature of a 10% "Special Sales Tax" on marijuana was unreasonable and unnecessary.

2. We believe that if Measure AA fails, there will still be adequate funds to effectively regulate recreational marijuana. We believe our state and local regulators can and should meet the challenge of marijuana regulation through the efficient management of their budgeted funds.

3. Excessive taxation under Measure AA, along with the decision of many local jurisdictions to "opt-out" of Amendment 64's business licensing provisions, has the potential effect to keep a black market for marijuana alive in Colorado. In addition to rejecting excessive taxation, Colorado NORML calls on local governments to reconsider their decision to ban the regulated retail sale of marijuana in their community. We believe that banning retail sales at the local level only denies the safe access to marijuana by consumers in their communities, and only serves to support the operation of unregulated local black markets for marijuana.
Comparing marijuana and alcohol tax rates is a challenge, McAllister acknowledges, because "tax rates on alcohol are somewhat complicated. It's sixty cents on a liter, and most people buy one-and-a-half liter bottles. But from our assessment, you pay between 10 and 15 percent tax on alcohol if you include all the special taxes.

"Now, for marijuana, the first 15 percent is a tax on the wholesale from the grower to the retailer -- but our sense is that most of these operations will likely pass that on to the consumer. Then, the retailer will have to charge an additional 10 percent tax on top of all the regular taxes, and some local governments are adding another 5 percent on top of that. So marijuana consumers will effectively be paying 30-40 percent taxes on this product, and that amounts to a windfall for the legislature -- taxes that are two to three times the rate of alcohol."

Continue for more about Colorado NORML's opposition to the recreational pot tax measure.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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