If you support marijuana legalization it is important you vote for Proposition AA in Colorado, which would impose a modest excise tax on recreational marijuana. Last year the voters of the state legalized marijuana with Amendment 64, with the promise that marijuana would be regulated and taxed. Due to a strange quirk in the state’s constitution though, the actual tax increase needs to go before voters this November in a separate vote. This gives marijuana users a unique chance to renege on the bargain they made with the people of the Colorado but that would be a terrible long-term move.
1) Someone has to pay – Legal marijuana is going to be regulated and regulations cost money. The rules governing the regulation of marijuana have already been approved and many voters only supported legalization because they were told marijuana would be regulated.
This means someone needs to pay for it. Logically, the people who will be consuming the legal marijuana should pay for the cost of these new regulations. It is unfair to expect everyone else to cover this burden. Legal marijuana should be subject to some tax to at least cover the cost of the state running the new program and this is the only real tax proposal out there.
2) Make it difficult to repeal legalization – No politician wants to blow a hole in their local budget. If legal marijuana is a net revenue generator it will be very hard for politicians to vote to repeal it. It will also give politicians another reason to fight federal interference. There is a reason the temperance movement considered the 16th amendment allowing income taxes a critical first step towards the 18th amendment banning alcohol. Federal politicians were unwilling to ban alcohol and give up the large source of government revenue until there was a big new tax to replace it.
On the other hand, if legal marijuana is not taxed and ends up being a drain on the state coffers it could quickly become a target. People who don’t use marijuana might turn against legalization if their taxes are raised to pay for the state regulating the legal marijuana market. A modest tax is a small price to pay to create a more favorable political environment for keeping marijuana legal.
3) Keeping your word – I believe keeping your world is important and morally the right thing to do. One of the key selling points of the Amendment 64 campaign to regular voters was that recreational marijuana would be taxed and the revenue used for school construction. I personally used this point several times to promote the initiative and I imagine many other activists did the same with their friends and family. It would be dishonest to ask people to vote for legalization based on the promise that marijuana would be taxed and then vote against the promised tax.
4) The community will want a say in future changes to Colorado’s marijuana laws – This is only the beginning for marijuana reform in Colorado. The state and local governments will be modifying, revising, and amending their hundreds of marijuana regulations for decades to come. The marijuana reform community is going to want a seat at the table where these decisions are made and the best way to do that is to be seen as an honest and trustworthy partner. Reneging on this promised tax would send a very bad signal. If you want to be part of future negotiations, you need to keep your promises
5) Advancing marijuana reform across the country – This is about more than just Colorado. Colorado is not only viewed as a test case by the rest of the country, but legalization in Colorado will probably only be sustainable long-term if the rest of the country continues to move forward. If the rest of the country turns against legalization then the federal government could easily cause big problems in Colorado. The best way to help marijuana legalization spread is to prove the reform community is trustworthy and show that marijuana legalization is a net positive. Having legal marijuana be a net drain on Colorado’s budget would make other states less open to the idea, but seeing legal marijuana fund new schools in Colorado would help spread support. Voting against the promised tax would also make the entire community seem untrustworthy making future actions more difficult.
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