Legalized marijuana brings in billion dollar tax haul for Colorado

DENVER, Co. (WXYZ) - When Colorado legalized marijuana six years ago, they called it “the green rush.” There was the rush to grow it, the rush to buy it and, of course, the rush to make money off of it.

“You just can’t beat the money,” one Denver resident told 7 Action News earlier this month. “The people that can afford it and what to use it are paying the taxes and it’s going to very good things, including our schools”

South Broadway in Denver is known as the city’s Green Mile, with 16 dispensaries there alone. In fact, throughout Colorado, there are more marijuana dispensaries than there are McDonald's.

The state’s more than 600 legal dispensaries are each regulated and each taxed plenty.  Recreational marijuana is subject to a 2.9 percent state sales tax, a 15 percent retail tax, a 15 percent excise tax and local taxes after that.

It’s money that cities have been quick to put to use.

“You’ll hear some cities say we’re filling potholes, we’re building a rec center,” said Liz Gelardi, a reporter for KMGH in Denver who's covered marijuana legalization.

One of the biggest beneficiaries from the weed tax is schools. Millions of tax dollars have gone towards fixing up aging schools, or building brand new ones.

“I would rather go build schools from the tax revenue that’s generated from this than building prisons and jails," said Bruce Nassau, owner of Lit Cannabis in Denver. "It's much better."

Millions have also gone into funding substance-abuse prevention programs aimed at kids, and millions more have gone to help those struggling with drug addiction.

The tax revenue has also helped build affordable housing. Tom Luehrs is the executive director of one of Colorado’s largest homeless shelters that, in January, opened up new apartments for homeless men, women and children.

“That helps us build a building,” Luehrs said. “It was a small portion, but it nonetheless helps us building a building so that 55 people who were homeless this year are no longer homeless.”

It all adds up to about a billion in tax revenue since 2014, and climbing. Marijuana proponents point out that it doesn’t end there.

“We’re also talking about, on an ongoing basis, 40,000 jobs of direct-licensed background checked employees,” said Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group.

But let’s be clear, say state officials, Colorado didn’t legalize marijuana for the money.  Dominique Mendiola is the state’s director of marijuana coordination and says Colorado has said no to new revenues when they felt public safety was at risk.

In June, the Governor vetoed a bill that would have created weed “tasting rooms.”

“Some of the reasons for that included concerns around impaired driving and other areas,” Mendiola said, “where we really need to continue to collect data and understand the impacts and public health effects.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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