After voting to legalize recreational marijuana use during the 2012 national election, Colorado voters are now gearing up to decide how to tax the drug.
On Tuesday, November 4, voters will choose whether or not to adopt a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana, in addition to an extra 10 percent sales tax to fund pot enforcement throughout the state.
Most polls indicate that voters will approve of the measure, though there are opponents who argue that marijuana should not be taxed any more than beer, which has a tax of eight cents for every gallon.
"Our alcohol system is regulated just fine with the taxes they have, so we don't see any need for this huge grab for cash from marijuana," Miguel Lopez, a volunteer coordinator for the opposition campaign to Colorado's pot tax measure, said to the Associated Press.
Supporters of the tax measure claim that since most residents don’t smoke pot, communities around the state will need to see tangible benefits as a result of legalizing the drug. Collecting taxes, which could then be spent on other public services, is one way of doing that.
"Taxes are an opportunity for marijuana to show it can play a valuable role in the community," said Joe Megyesy, spokesman for the campaign supporting the tax measure.
Still, considering that multiple surveys have found 80 percent all of marijuana is smoked by a mere 20 percent of pot users, it’s important for tax proponents to ensure that heavy smokers pay for the drug legally instead of remaining on the black market. According to Attorney Rob Corry, who opposes the tax measure as it’s currently written, the proposal threatens to keep frequent marijuana users in the shadows.
“When you overtax something, you create a black market and an underground market that is not taxed and not regulated in any way,” he said to Colorado Public Radio.
As a sign that no one is quite sure how the measure would effect pot smokers, the state is not including any estimates regarding how much money it will take in via taxes during its 2014-2015 fiscal year. Some reports have suggested Colorado could bring in as much as $70 million annually.
Not all marijuana in the state will be subjected to the hefty tax, however. Growing pot at home allows individuals to avoid taxes altogether, while medical marijuana will continue to be sold at a lower rate.
While residents consider the merits of taxation, the one subject not up for debate is the legality of marijuana in general. Even those who opposed the 2012 ballot measure, such as Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Attorney General John Suthers, have embraced the tax measure as way to regulate the industry.
"I think everyone sort of realizes that the die has been cast. We're really doing this, and if we're going to move marijuana out of the shadows, we need to regulate it and tax it," said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor and member of the Colorado panel responsible for writing the state’s marijuana regulations.