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Amendment 64's other shoe drops with Proposition AA 

Sin tax syntax

While Colorado Springs residents without red cards won't be running down to their corner pot shop for an eighth and an edible anytime soon, they will soon help decide the fate of others who can. Hence it comes that Proposition AA hath joined the November ballot to offer either succor or subjugation, depending on whom you ask.

Attorney Rob Corry, a prominent litigator in matters of medical marijuana as well as treasurer of the No on AA campaign, says it's the latter, and he says it with style. He says it by handing you a free joint, like he's done at events in Denver and Boulder, and then delivering a message of eventual doom for recreational marijuana as a whole if the 15 percent excise tax and 10 percent sales tax are passed by Colorado voters.

"It's bait and switch; it's misleading to the voters; and it's not what we intended in Amendment 64," says Corry in an interview with the Indy. "What we intended in Amendment 64 was [that] marijuana be treated like alcohol. That's the title of the [campaign], and it should be taxed similar to alcohol, which is taxed under a 1 percent excise tax; and the alcohol industry is quite well-regulated."

That bit about regulation goes to the heart of how the two taxes are to be divided up. Annually, the first $40 million generated by the excise tax would go to the BEST program, a school-construction fund. The sales tax, which the Legislature could raise as high as 15 percent if passed, would help fund regulation of the industry, "as well as related costs for health, education, and public safety, which are not currently funded," according to the state's Blue Book. It also says initial revenues are estimated at $27.5 million from the excise tax, and $39.5 million from the sales tax.

Of course, the state hasn't exactly covered itself with glory when it comes to money management and marijuana. An audit released earlier in the year ripped what was then called the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division for what it considered needless spending on vehicles and office supplies.

That still shouldn't derail the effort, says Joe Megyesy, communications director for the AA-supporting Committee for Responsible Regulation. And now's not the time to be arguing it, anyway.

"The time to have the negotiation about what the rate should be has passed," he says. "It was earlier this year, at the Legislature, and many of these activists were not around when we were having that discussion."

Even if the tax passes — and CRR says an April poll using language "pretty close" to the final ballot question showed 77 percent support — it's still unclear if the money will be enough. The Colorado Futures Center issued a report earlier in the year that said estimated taxes may be insufficient to cover all costs associated with regulation. Co-author Phyllis Resnick later downplayed some of those concerns in a conversation with this newspaper, but still says the proposed "sin taxes" are appropriate.

"The fiscal note on it is probably just the beginning," the economist says. "I think, over time, we're gonna want to do public-health studies; there's gonna be labeling issues; there's potentially public-safety issues that we don't know about yet. So there's gonna be costs associated with what we do, and so I think it's very appropriate to tax it and dedicate those taxes to covering the costs associated with the program."

bryce@csindy.com

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