Marijuana: Would pot tax generate millions more than what's needed for regulation?

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Tomorrow is election day, and among the most contentious issues is Proposition AA, which would establish tax rates for recreational marijuana sales. Prop AA opponents say a special sales tax of at least 10 percent, in addition to a 15 percent excise tax (not to mention other state and local taxes), is much too high, while backers believe the figures will guarantee proper regulation and safety.

But what would Prop AA do for state revenues? An online tool offers ammunition for both sides.

We first told you about Backseat Budgeter in 2011. Developed by Engaged Public, a public-policy firm, and Colorado State University's Bighorn Leadership Program, the program is intended to give the citizenry as a whole a better idea about the challenges before legislators when it comes to balancing a budget. Users can develop their own budgets and cut whatever they'd like -- although the program let's them know if their priorities could potentially lead to lawsuits, for example.

What happens when you apply Backbeat Budgeter to Proposition AA?

"If Prop AA passes," according to the folks behind the site, "the revenue from the taxes will be placed into a restricted or 'cash' fund dedicated to covering the state expenses associated with the legalization of recreational marijuana. These expenses include but are not limited to regulation of the industry, public health, and safety.

"In the case that the tax elections in November 2013 are successful, there will be little or no General Fund impact as a result of the legalization of recreational marijuana. In fact, there is a possibility that revenues from the taxes will exceed the cost of regulating the industry."

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An image from the Backseat Budgeter website.
Using figures from the Colorado Futures Center, Backseat Budgeter calculates that applying half of anticipated marijuana sales tax revenue to the General Fund "would mean a revenue increase of $19,900,000" -- an amount that could be dedicated to "higher education" (pun presumably not intended).

What if the tax is rejected? "Without a dedicated revenue source from marijuana taxes," the Backseat Budgeter folks note that "the General Fund will likely have to support the expenses associated with the regulation of recreational marijuana." But the estimated amounts are a lot lower than $19,900,000: "Covering the Department of Public Safety costs associated with legal marijuana with the general fund" is predicted to require $156,000, while "covering the costs of direct regulation of legal marijuana with the General Fund" adds up to $1,261,000.

So...does this prove Proposition AA will do great things for the State of Colorado? Or that lawmakers are taking advantage of marijuana users by requiring them to pay much more than would be strictly necessary just to cover regulatory and safety costs? That's up to each voter to decide.

Click here and here to try out Backseat Budgeter for yourself.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Yes on Proposition AA tax proposal winning handily in polls."

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