Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pueblo County voters in Colorado approve local marijuana tax to fund college scholarship

Images (4)This local story from Colorado, which is headlined "New in Colorado: College scholarships funded by weed" (and amazingly does not make any jokes about higher education), discusses an interesting local tax initiativ that looks to reinvestment marijuana revenues to a very sound cause.  Here are the details:

A Colorado county that boasts the world's largest outdoor marijuana farm and has been actively courting the new pot industry has approved the world s first marijuana-funded college scholarship.

Pueblo County voters approved the pot tax by a 20-point margin Tuesday.  The 5 percent excise tax on marijuana growers is expected to raise about $3.5 million a year by 2020, with the money available for any high school senior in the county who attends one of two public colleges in the county.

The scholarship awards will depend on how many students apply, but county planners are projecting about 400 students a year will get scholarships of about $1,000 each per year.  The awards are the world's first scholarships funded entirely by pot taxes.  "It's a landmark vote," said Brian Vicente, a Denver-based marijuana attorney who wrote Colorado's 2012 legalization measure.  "This is the first time you have marijuana tax money being used directly for scholarships, and that's pretty remarkable."  Pueblo's booming pot industry didn't oppose the measure, which brings their tax rate from 15 percent to 20 percent, phased in over five year....

Scholarship backers insist the fund isn't any different than the scholarships already funded by alcohol companies.  "Adding a scholarship that comes from an industry we are fostering is a logical method to address several of our community issues, including an unemployment rate that lags the statewide average," said Chris Markuson, Pueblo's economic development director.

Through aggressive recruitment efforts and financial incentives, the southern Colorado county has attracted a booming industry of marijuana growers fleeing higher costs in the Denver area....

Pueblo also has taken the unusual step of putting marijuana growers on equal footing with traditional farmers when it comes to water rights — something it's able to do because its water supply in the Arkansas River Basin is controlled locally, not by the federal government.   "We are aggressive, trying to build the Silicon Valley of the marijuana industry," Markuson said.

Just last week Pueblo officials announced an $8 million incentives package to lure pot growers to convert a defunct Boeing rocket plant into a production facility for hemp oil that will eventually employ 163 people.  Pueblo County now accounts for about 3 percent of Colorado's recreational marijuana sales, but about 20 percent of the state's recreational pot production.  The county has about 65 commercial pot growers, including the 36-acre Los Suenos farm, which is believed to be the world's largest pot cultivation site.

The two colleges eligible for scholarship spending — Pueblo Community College and Colorado State University-Pueblo — did not immediately return calls about the new weed scholarships.

Sal Pace, a county commissioner who pushed the scholarship ballot measure, called the pot industry a natural source of funds.  "For years we ve been floating the idea of a special funding source in Pueblo to help kids afford college," Pace said.  "This seemed like a natural fit."

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2015/11/pueblo-county-voters-in-colorado-approve-local-marijuana-tax-to-fund-college-scholarship.html

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