Colorado voters will decide in November whether to hike pot taxes to boost funding for out-of-school learning programs.
The Colorado Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday announced supporters of Initiative 25, titled the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program, are projected to have gathered enough signatures to clear the threshold to qualify for the ballot.
Supporters of the so-called LEAP measure needed 124,632 valid signatures to qualify and submitted a total of 203,335 petition signatures. After reviewing a 5% random sample of the submitted signatures, the Elections Division is projecting Initiative 25 garnered just over 145,000 valid signatures.
The ballot measure would impose a new 3% tax on recreational marijuana starting next year, a levy that would be bumped up to 5% by 2024. By the time it's fully phased in, an analysis from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Council estimates it would generate $137.6 million per year.
Initiative 25 would also transfer some $22 million each year in state land board revenue from the Permanent Fund to the State Public School Fund and a corresponding amount annually from the General Fund to the LEAP Fund.
Those combined revenues would go toward providing a credit prioritizing low-income households that would help pay for out-of-school learning opportunities like tutoring, mental health counseling, extra services for special needs students and career training programs, among a host of others.
"Colorado kids who were struggling in school before the pandemic are even farther behind now," said Stephanie Perez-Carrillo, a manager with the Colorado Children's Campaign, in a statement released by the initiative's supporters. "The LEAP initiative will make Colorado the first state in the country to offer a statewide approach to helping kids recover from current COVID losses, while also creating a long-term plan to prevent opportunity gaps from developing in the future."
CCC isn't alone in supporting the measure. Other backers include a bipartisan coalition of 10 state senators, nearly a dozen state House Republicans and prominent former politicians hailing from both parties, including former Govs. Bill Owens and Bill Ritter and former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs.
Industry representatives, though, have expressed concern that continuing to hike marijuana taxes would drive customers to the black market.
"It's less about the specific issue and more about the slippery slope," Peter Marcus, a spokesman for Terrapin Care Station, told Colorado Politics this month. "State lawmakers worked carefully to craft a cannabis tax structure that balances revenue with maintaining a regulated market. At some point we will tax cannabis so high that it will empower an illegal market and cause regulated marijuana to unravel. We can’t balance the state budget with fringe taxes that do nothing to address the state’s very real structural deficiencies. This is a misguided proposal.”
The measure is also opposed by Colorado Freedom Force, a conservative organization generally opposed to tax increases.
"While some of those dollars may go towards the kids, the initiative really just creates a new trough for bureaucrats and politicians to feed at for their pet projects and their own pockets," the group said in a newsletter to supporters.