DALLAS — Under legislation passed by the Colorado General Assembly Wednesday, the first $40 million of tax revenue from wholesale sales of marijuana will go toward school construction with additional income directed to a cash fund.
Colorado House Bill 1318 - the first state legislation in the nation regulating sales of recreational marijuana - also allows cities and counties to tax the legalized pot. The annual revenue stream is expected to support debt service on school bonds, along with local bond issues.
Passage of bills regulating marijuana sales, approved by voters last November under Amendment 64, were among the final acts of the 2013 legislative session that ended Wednesday.
"This is a true game-changer for our state," said State Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, during Senate debate. "And so I think it is important that we do our best to implement the right regulatory environment and fund it."
Gov. John Hickenlooper has not said whether he will sign the bill, but the legislation followed guidelines from a task force created by the governor after passage of Amendment 64.
HB 1318 sets a 15% excise tax on wholesale marijuana and a 15% tax on retail sales, on top of the state's existing 2.9% sales tax. A companion bill, House Bill 1317, provides additional regulations of marijuana stores in the state.
The adult recreational marijuana market in Colorado is valued at $605.7 million, according to research from the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University. Taxation of that market will bring an additional $130.1 million in state tax revenue in fiscal year 2014, according to the April 24 report.
However, the study concluded that the 15% wholesale excise tax created by the amendment will not reach the goal of $40 million for school construction as stipulated in the ballot language approved by voters.
"The high water mark for marijuana tax revenue is likely to be in the first few post?legalization years with revenue flattening or declining thereafter," the study said.
The study also reported that marijuana tax revenues may not cover the incremental state expenditures related to legalization and that marijuana tax revenues will not close Colorado's structural budget gap.
With voter approval in November, the new tax structure will take effect Jan. 1.
For the first nine months, only existing medical-marijuana dispensary owners will be allowed to apply to open retail marijuana shops. The first recreational marijuana stores to open would be required to grow what they sell. Wholesale growers and new retailers could begin operating in October 2014.
The Senate voted to bar cities such as the Denver suburb of Aurora from operating pot shops and outlawed incorporated marijuana collectives that would bypass regulations.
Researchers Charles Brown and Phyllis Resnick at CSU noted that analyzing the fiscal impact on the state was fraught with uncertainty, since record-keeping on marijuana sales is limited.
"Since there is no reliable data on the probable extent of marijuana tourism and illegal transfers to minors, these activities are not accounted for in the center's model, so our estimates may be understated to some extent," their study pointed out.