Hickenlooper’s revised budget flush with marijuana money

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DENVER — Colorado’s legal marijuana market is thriving, according to a budget proposal released Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper that indicates the first month of tax revenues from the new industry are far exceeding the state’s expectations.

Hickenlooper’s budget amendment proposes to spend some $99 million next fiscal year — all from the statewide 12.9 percent sales tax on marijuana that voters approved last fall — on substance abuse prevention, youth marijuana use prevention and other priorities.

Colorado’s total pot sales next fiscal year were estimated to be about $610 million.

Retail sales began Jan. 1 in Colorado. Sales have been strong, though exact figures for January sales won’t be made public until early next month.

“We are pleased to submit our request for allocation of new state resources available from passage of Proposition AA and the sales taxes from medical marijuana,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter this week to the General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee.

“Our administration is committed to the responsible regulation of adult-use marijuana and the effective allocation of resources to protect public safety and health and to prevent underage use. Indeed, we view our top priority as creating an environment where negative impacts on children from marijuana legalization are avoided completely. Underage use of marijuana can have long-lasting effects on individuals and communities.”

The governor also proposed a $5.8 million, three-year “statewide media campaign on marijuana use,” presumably highlighting the drug’s health risks.

The state Department of Transportation would get $1.9 million for a new “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign to tout the state’s new marijuana blood-limit standard for drivers.

Also, Hickenlooper has proposed spending $7 million for an additional 105 beds in residential treatment centers for substance abuse disorders.

Amendment 64 leaders blasted the governor’s spending plan late Wednesday.

“Gov. Hickenlooper’s proposal reflects his long-held pro-alcohol, anti-marijuana mindset. His plan is to spend millions of dollars on marijuana propaganda and continue to ignore the fact that alcohol causes far more potential harm to consumers and the community,” a statement from Yes on 64 campaign co-director Mason Tvert says. “We support efforts to educate people about marijuana and prevent use by minors, but not when they are as myopic and wasteful as those proposed by the governor’s office.”

Yes on 64 co-director Brian Vicente says, “[the] proposal flies in the faces of voters who expected marijuana to be treated similarly to alcohol. Voters approved Amendment 64 because they wanted to put an end to government-run anti-marijuana campaigns, not to fund new ones. The governor should explain why he feels all of these new marijuana-related programs are necessary when the health and safety of teens are threatened to a much greater degree by alcohol use and prescription drug abuse.”

Given that marijuana sales just began less than two months ago, the current spending plan leaves room for forecast fluctuations and unknown needs that could arise during the year.

The spending plan now goes through the legislative process and will be finalized with the overall state budget for FY 2014-15.

See the governor’s full proposal here

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