Colorado’s cannabis industry is thriving, and state officials are deciding how taxes gathered from cannabis sales will be distributed to public education, health awareness programs, affordable housing, and a new initiative to fight the opioid epidemic.
Last week Governor John Hickenlooper approved a state bill that directs how tax dollars are spent from the “Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.” In FY 2016-2017, Colorado collected $105 million from the sale of cannabis. Most of the money went to public schools, health programs, and the managing of the state’s marijuana program.
Colorado is one of six states, as well as Washington DC, that have legalized recreational cannabis. But the federal government could step in at anytime and cause a full-scale elimination of the cannabis industry. Colorado’s cannabis sales increased 30 percent in the beginning of the year, compared to the first part of 2016. Retailers moved $235 million worth of cannabis goods in total.
The new budget bill allocates $15.3 million worth of cannabis tax revenue towards “permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing assistance for individuals with behavioral health needs, and for individuals experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.” The governor’s office stated that the money is meant to “reduce incarceration, hospitalization, and homelessness for many of Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens.” An additional $7.1 million will be marked for “ending the use of jails for holding people who are experiencing a mental health crisis” by increasing access to “more appropriate services outside the criminal justice system.”
In order to fund 150 healthcare professionals that would offer “education, universal screening, referral, and care coordination for students with substance abuse and other behavioral health needs,” $9.7 million will be sent to the Department of Education to support the program. “We want to be able to use these funds to educate youth on the dangers and risks of marijuana use,” said Mark Bolton, an attorney who works in the governor’s office and supervises marijuana policy.
Lastly, a new program to help fight opioid addiction will be funded by an annual $500,000 from cannabis taxes. Colorado has experienced the effects of the opioid epidemic and is understaffed in dealing with the crisis. The money will be used to fund grants and pilot programs that would educate medical professionals on opioid abuse in counties who have the highest rates of abuse and fatal overdoses.
But these programs are in danger of being eliminated or not starting at all due to federal prohibition. While the Obama administration neither supported cannabis legalization nor made an effort to control it, the Trump administration has been threatening to crack down on legal cannabis. In contrast to the GOP’s state’s rights values, the Trump administration is backtracking on a campaign promise to let states decide on legalizing cannabis. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made several comments insinuating that those who use cannabis are “bad,” that medical marijuana is over-hyped, and that the drug poses the same risks as heroin. Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties available for drug crimes, making the move from indifference towards cannabis legalization to outright hostility.