Colorado Will Vote on Increasing Cannabis Taxes to Fund Research and Education
October 26, 2021 08:00 am ET
Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Since the coronavirus pandemic erupted in January 2020, researchers around the world have funneled their energy into carrying out virus-focused studies and investigations. In fact, a report featured in the journal Pediatric Research demonstrated the importance and challenges of coronavirus-inspired research—something that Denver voters could soon have some serious influence over.
Considering the virus has claimed the lives of almost 5 million people around the world, it’s no wonder researchers want to learn more about potential treatment and prevention strategies. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached almost 90,000 in Denver, Colorado, where voters are being given the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to increase the local cannabis tax as a means of funding pandemic-related research.
In July, signatures from activists who support Initiated Ordinance 300—which aims to introduce an additional 1.5% cannabis tax ($7 million annual tax increase on cannabis sales)—were validated for the November 2021 ballot. Aside from this proposed city ordinance, a separate statewide initiative will also be put in front of voters on the November ballot. Proposition 119, if approved, would increase Colorado’s state marijuana retail sales tax rate from 15% to 20% to fund an out-0f-school education program.
Initiated Ordinance 300: Funding Pandemic Research in Denver
Initiated Ordinance 300—which will only be on the ballot for Denver voters—has been heavily pushed by lobbyists for the Denver Pandemic Fund that will ultimately back pandemic research at the University of Colorado Denver’s CityCenter. According to the campaign’s website, the research will focus on “advanced technologies to protect the public from the spread of pandemic pathogens, including at schools, businesses, and hospitals” and “pandemic preparedness and recovery, including urban, economic, and school planning.”
By adding an additional 15 cents to every $10 of cannabis purchased in Denver, the ordinance will bring in the required revenue to properly run this proposed research program. According to the Denver city website, 75% of the revenue will be allocated to researching protective equipment and disinfection technology, while 25% will be reserved for research on public policy and planning. After 20 years, the research could be expanded contingent on an audit.
Motive for the new ordinance comes from a desire to improve pandemic preparedness. “Global health experts warned of a pandemic threat for years before COVID-19,” supporters stated. “Yet, when the virus hit, there was little planning in place. Elected leaders and government officials scrambled for policy solutions, health treatments, and even basic protections. Many lives—and livelihoods—were lost.”
However, not all stakeholders are in support of the initiated ordinance—including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who views the measure as an unnecessary tax burden on citizens. While medical marijuana is exempt from the tax hike, recreational users are already subject to a 9.81% cannabis tax rate in Denver on top of a 15% statewide cannabis tax. One local politician called the initiative a “pointless tax grab” on a commodity that is already severely overtaxed—particularly because CU Denver did not even ask for the funds.
A CU Denver spokesperson told Denverite,
“The University of Colorado has not taken a position on Initiated Ordinance 300. CU Denver became aware of the proposed ballot initiative in the summer of 2020 when the campaign group first suggested the idea. We are not involved in the campaign. Since this is still before the voters, we have not made tangible plans on how to use the funds, if passed. However, as Denver’s only public urban research university, we have award-winning faculty and an experienced research office that are ready and capable of administering new grants.”
Proposition 119: Funding Out-of-School Enrichment in Colorado
Colorado Proposition 119—which will be on the ballots of all state voters—would effectively create the Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program (LEAP) by increasing the state cannabis retail sales tax rate by five percentage points (medical cannabis would not be affected). A group of educators in support of the measure have spearheaded the Vote Yes on Prop 119 campaign, which has since been endorsed by many state politicians.
Proposition 119 would have no bearing on K-12 in-school education or teacher needs, according to 9News. Rather, the measure would provide financial aid to cover out-of-school learning and enrichment for students ages 5 to 17, such as tutoring, therapy, and language training. Students from low-income families would be eligible for at least $1,500 a year to cover expenses.
Supporters of the proposition—including Colorado Gov. Jared Polis—have voiced their desire to see equal access to enriching learning opportunities for all Colorado students, no matter their socioeconomic status. Those for Proposition 119 also claim the measure empowers parents “to pick a tutoring or after-school program that best fits their child’s developmental needs,” according to Colorado Public Radio (CPR).
Others oppose the ballot measure because they feel that public tax money should fund public schools, not private out-of-school programs. The state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, has a neutral stance on the proposition due to the lack of information on how the program will be implemented. Stakeholders in the cannabis industry argue that the measure could push buyers back to the illegal market to avoid the high taxes on regulated cannabis.
While the state of Colorado is known for its progress in reversing the damage of cannabis prohibition, feelings on the latest cannabis political measures are varied across groups. Is increasing cannabis taxes an appropriate method for funding needed programs? Or do higher cannabis tax rates only serve to decrease the access to the plant that voters have diligently fought for? Let us know in the comments below.
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