Marijuana: John Hickenlooper's tax spending plan is anti-pot, pro-booze, advocates say

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Doubts about whether demand for recreational marijuana would cover the cost of the program put in place to regulate its sale appear to have been unfounded, at least during its early stages.

Evidence comes via Governor John Hickenlooper, who's come up with a plan to spend recreational-pot tax revenues: $4.5 million this fiscal year and a heaping $99 million the next. But proponents of the amendment that made such sales possible are aghast at his proposal, which they call anti-pot and pro-booze.

There's some irony in Hickenlooper being the beneficiary of this windfall beyond his past as a tavern owner. He actively opposed Amendment 64, the measure that allows adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana. And while he reacted to the measure's passage with at least a modicum of humor, cracking that it was too soon to break out the Cheetos and Goldfish, he has since worked overtime to stress that he's no cheerleader for legal weed.

Last month, for instance, Hickenlooper talked pot with the New York Times' Maureen Dowd, and during the conversation, he said he hadn't smoked cannabis for decades because "it makes you slow down and clumsy," and emphasized that "I wouldn't do it even if I was completely by myself in the forest or whatever."

In addition, Hickenlooper denigrated the idea that the state should be dependent on tax revenue from a product that doesn't make the lives of people better even as he teased a campaign to keep teenagers from indulging.

This last plan has now been unveiled. We've included Hickenlooper's complete proposal below, but in general, his office suggests spending the aforementioned $100 million-plus, supplemented by "$29 million in enforcement money already planned for this year and next," like so:

• Youth marijuana use prevention and deterrence ($45.5 million); • Substance abuse treatment ($40.4 million); • Public health ($12.4 million); • Regulatory oversight ($1.8 million); • Law enforcement and public safety ($3.2 million); and • Statewide coordination ($200,000)

The reactions from Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert and attorney Brian Vicente, the most prominent backers of Amendment 64, aren't filled with atta-boys.

Continue for more about Governor John Hickenlooper's proposal for marijuana tax revenue spending, including responses from critics, photos and the document itself. Predictably, Tvert's response is the most fiery. He writes:

"Gov. Hickenlooper's proposal reflects his long-held pro-alcohol, anti-marijuana mindset. His plan is to spend millions of dollars on marijuana propaganda and continue to ignore the fact that alcohol causes far more potential harm to consumers and the community. How can the governor justify focusing our state's limited drug education and prevention resources on a substance that is less harmful than one he made a fortune selling? Any new marijuana education efforts should include a discussion of the relative harms of alcohol and prescription drugs. We support efforts to educate people about marijuana and prevent use by minors, but not when they are as myopic and wasteful as those proposed by the governor's office."

Vicente's statement is more understated, but sounds many of the same themes. It reads:

"Gov. Hickenlooper's proposal flies in the faces of voters who expected marijuana to be treated similarly to alcohol. Voters approved Amendment 64 because they wanted to put an end to government-run anti-marijuana campaigns, not to fund new ones. The governor should explain why he feels all of these new marijuana-related programs are necessary when the health and safety of teens are threatened to a much greater degree by alcohol use and prescription drug abuse. We have an incredible opportunity to chart a new course in the state when it comes to teen substance use and abuse. We hope the legislature will approach this issue more thoughtfully than the governor has."

Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, has also weighed in. His take is quite politic, but it falls short of being a ringing endorsement:

"We appreciate the careful consideration that went into the Governor's spending formula, though we have concerns.

"It is imperative the Department of Revenue is funded adequately so it can vigorously enforce state regulations and ensure that everyone in the industry is abiding by the rules.

"We also believe there is a role for the state in solving the banking crisis - whether that is through setting up a state bank, creating a task force, or some other means. The banking issue is creating a grave public safety problem and if Congress refuses to act, the state must take action.

"The Cannabis Industry endorsed, funded, and ran the campaign to increase marijuana taxes. We did this primarily to protect public safety, and to ensure that Colorado has sufficient resources to responsibly implement this new regulatory scheme.

"The Cannabis Industry may already be the most heavily taxed industry in the country. The tax burden from the federal government is particularly harsh due to the IRS denying us normal business tax deductions.

"Nonetheless, we are dedicated to the success of this program, and welcome continued partnerships with Governor Hickenlooper, the Colorado General Assembly, the City of Denver, and other community leaders."

Here's the Hickenlooper spending proposal.

Governor John Hickenlooper Marijuana Revenue Spending Proposal

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa January 29: "John Hickenlooper: I wouldn't smoke pot if I was alone in a forest."

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