COLORADO: With less than three months before Colorado voters decide whether to tax recreational marijuana for schools and enforcement, proponents are only just sparking the proposition.
But the Committee for Responsible Regulation is not too worried. Its last polling in April showed that the measure would pass by 77 percent of the vote. And now some big names and organizations are committing to rally behind the effort, with both the business and labor communities on board.
Proposition AA will ask voters to support a 15 percent excise tax and a separate 10 percent special sales tax. Those dollars would go towards enforcement costs, with the first $40 million of the excise tax earmarked for capital school construction.
The legislature referred the measure to voters in May when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the legislation at a ceremony at the Capitol.
The governor said at the time that he would campaign for the tax increase if necessary, but he has so far been quiet about it. A spokesman for his office, Eric Brown, said the governor supports the tax measure, but he doesn’t know whether Hickenlooper will campaign for it.
Colorado voters don’t usually have an appetite for tax increases, but the marijuana tax question is a different beast. For one, not everyone will use the newly legalized marijuana marketplace; and for those who do, they appear to understand that the constitutional right comes with some responsibility.
Even much of the industry itself is supporting the tax increase — making it perhaps the only industry in the state that supports taxation for its own regulation.
“It’s an interesting situation we’re in; it’s bizarro world,” commented Joe Megyesy, spokesman for the Committee for Responsible Regulation. “Half the industry is coming together to fund the tax campaign against itself. But it just goes to show where we’re at right now… they’re going to have to take extra steps to prove their legitimacy to the public at large.”
Megyesy — who also lobbied the legislature this year as it worked to craft a package of regulatory measures to control the budding industry — said Legislative Council recently closed the comment period on crafting the Blue Book language for the proposition. The Blue Book explains ballot questions to voters.
The Committee for Responsible Regulation includes representatives of the current medical marijuana industry, prospective newcomers to the industry, and union leaders from the UFCW Local 7, which represents food and commercial workers.
Mark Belkin, community affairs and organizing director for Local 7, said it is important for his union to get behind the effort from the beginning so that they can help craft what may become a major job creator.
“We want to play a role in developing a partnership with the industry, with the community, to help stabilize the industry to help it prosper so that employees have secured dignified jobs that pay a livable wage,” affirmed Belkin. “We don’t want another industry coming into Colorado that’s going to create thousands of thousands of jobs but it’s a low-wage industry.”
The committee has been working with lawmakers, such as Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who spearheaded the legislative effort to regulate the industry, and Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, who also sponsored marijuana regulatory bills.
Singer said his work with the committee has primarily served as an advisory role. But he said he has also been working with the committee to make sure that it has the resources to get its message out to voters so that the state can “responsibly regulate a substance that was previously illegal.”