Marijuana Tax, License and Fees Revenue Will Blow Past $100 Million in 2015

What a difference a few years make.

In August 2012, during the campaign for Amendment 64,which legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, we refereed a debate between opponents and proponents arguing over a report suggesting that passage of the measure could result in $60 million in new revenue and savings for Colorado — and that total could reach the $100 million-per-annum range after 2017.

A spokesman for Smart Colorado, the most prominent group fighting against A64, scoffed at the assertions back then, noting that even the lower number was nearly triple the highest estimates by the state. Meanwhile, Amendment 64 backers such as the Drug Policy Alliance's Art Way saw the report' as totally realistic.

Now two years after Amendment 64's implementation on January 1, 2014, we decided to crunch the numbers, and it turns out that both sides were wrong — but Way was a helluva lot closer.

According to  figures from the Colorado Department of Revenue, the total from retail marijuana taxes, licenses and fees will be well beyond $100 million for 2015 — at least two years ahead of schedule.

The report in question was conducted under the auspices of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy; we've included it below. This graphic shows an estimate of additional annual tax revenue for Colorado prior to 2017....

...and this one features calculations of Amendment 64's fiscal impact as measured by job creation.

Smart Colorado's Roger Sherman viewed these numbers as absolute pie in the sky. He noted that the Colorado Center on Law and Policy study was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance, whose Denver branch Way heads.

"This report triples the estimate from the state's unbiased, non-partisan Office of Legislative Council in the Blue Book." Sherman added.

He was right. The original blue book document, also shared here, features the following graphic, which posits that sales taxes and licensing fees would range from $4 million to $22 million for each of the first two years after Amendment 64 went into effect.

But the state's bean counters were more than a little off.

At this writing, marijuana-related data compiled by the Department of Revenue is only available for the first ten months of 2015. Here are the figures for "Total All Marijuana Taxes, Licenses, and Fees" for each month and the sum through October.
January 2015: $8,802,295
February 2015: $9,099, 395
March 2015: $9,979,643
April 2015: $10,617,311
May 2015: $11,326,452
June 2015: $10,856,584
July 2015: $12,811,437
August 2015: $13,181,758
September 2015: $11,656,736
October 2015: $11,290,012
Total: $109,621,523
The $100,000,000-plus figure isn't the final word. Two monthly line items specifically refer to medical marijuana under the headings "Sales Tax Transfer to Marijuana Cash Fund" and "License and Application Fees Transfer to Marijuana Cash Fund."

The amounts under those categories from January through October of 2015 come to $17,743,185. Subtracting that from $109,621,523 produces a total of $91,878,338.

But with November and December totals yet to be counted — and given that the lowest total of marijuana taxes, licenses and fees for any month in 2015 was nearly $9 million, there's little doubt that the $100,000,000 barrier will be easily overcome even without factoring in MMJ.

As for Way, he celebrated the two years since the start of recreational sales with a recent piece for Alternet — it was also published by Salon — that includes the sub-headline "Chicken Little was wrong."

Way uses a Guardian newspaper estimate of $125 million for 2015 tax revenues (based on the pace of collections through July) in ballyhooing the windfall available for important state services. Here's an excerpt from his piece:
These monies are put into a fund to improve local public schools or are collected by the state to be divvied up via the Governor’s allocation plan. The Governor’s plan provides a snapshot as to what a public health approach to marijuana looks like — funds are distributed to public education, behavioral health, law enforcement and youth prevention.

The Governor's plan in the 2015/2016 fiscal year alone will allocate 23 million dollars to such groups as the Tony Grampsas Youth Development program, which provides necessary services to youth at risk likely to be disproportionately targeted by punitive prohibition policies in the first place.
Dozens upon dozens of comments collected on Way's original piece, but this was our favorite, based on the idea that Amendment 64 could lead to wider decriminalization of drugs.
What a tragedy!

Think of all the cops, judges, lawyers, bail bondsmen, prison guards, parole officers, prison construction services companies and construction companies that will be out of work and hurt by this misguided policy.

Rather than decriminalizing, they should ramp up drug laws and put, say, 10% of the population behind bars so that we could achieve full employment while getting the scum bags off the streets.

Just a suggestion.
Look below to see the 2012-vintage Amendment 64 fiscal impact statement created by the State of Colorado, followed by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy analysis from that same year.

Amendment 64 Fiscal Impact Statement 2012

Colorado Center on Law and Policy Amendment 64 Analysis

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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