Marijuana Taxation May Lead to Free College

Marijuana+and+its+legalization
Marijuana and its legalization

Marijuana and its legalization

Marijuana and its legalization

Brooke Sprasky, Sports Editor

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Who would be happy to get their college tuition for free? It is expected that most students, including their parents, would happily take this offer. With the booming industry of marijuana, this offer is beginning to show in Pueblo County, Colorado, where a number of students get picked to have their college tuition payed off by the government through the taxation of marijuana. Though several states have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana, Colorado is the first state to have this offer.

Overview/Background:

The state of Colorado taxes marijuana through a 15 percent excise tax, a 15 percent sales tax, and the regular 2.9 percent sales tax on both retail and medical marijuana. Local jurisdictions may levy their own sales taxes.

The amount of money that comes to the Colorado Department of Education from marijuana taxation are the following: In 2015-16, the total tax revenue was $86.3 million. In 2016-17, the total tax revenue was $54.2 million. In 2017-18, the total tax revenue was $91.3 million. However, to put that into perspective, the marijuana tax revenue from 2017-18 was roughly 1.6 percent of the state’s K-12 education budget of $5.6 billion, which encompasses the budget of the Colorado Department of Education, the Charter School Institute, and The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Money is distributed to a variety of programs, including school construction, bullying prevention, and behavior health. The state constitution mandates that the first $40 million in revenue from excise taxes on wholesale marijuana must be credited to the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) fund, in order to renovate existing school buildings or construct new buildings.

The BEST fund also receives money from the Colorado Lottery, the State Land Board and from interest. It is worthwhile to note that a statewide facility assessment determined a need of nearly $18 billion in capital construction through 2018. Revenue in excess of the $40 million is credited to the Public School Fund, which is operated by the State Treasurer’s Office.

The state began levying a 15 percent sales tax on retail marijuana in July 2017. Ten percent of that tax must be allocated to local governments.

The state legislature in 2014 created the MTCF to collect tax revenue from retail and medical marijuana sales. The legislature ensured that revenue from the fund must be spent the following year on healthcare, to monitor the health effects of marijuana, health education, substance abuse prevention, treatment programs, and law enforcement.

Several agencies throughout Colorado receive revenue from the MTCF. The Colorado Department of Education has received money from the fund specifically for the following: The School Health Professional Grant program, which addresses behaviorial health issues in schools, a grant program that helps schools and districts set up initiatives to reduce the frequency of bullying, a grant to fund dropout prevention programs, and Early Literacy Competitive Grants that ensure that reading is embedded into the K-3 curriculum.

Pueblo County’s Marijuana-Funded Scholarships:

Pueblo County, Colorado, is the first county in Colorado to distribute marijuana-funded scholarships to college students. Every graduating high school student in Pueblo County will qualify for a scholarship funded by marijuana tax revenue that can be used at local colleges.

The CBS affiliate, KKTV, reported that the Pueblo County commissioner’s office began accepting applications in February for the country’s first cannabis-funded college scholarship.

The Pueblo County Scholarship Fund is fueled by a tax on retail marijuana in the county. In Nov. 2015, Pueblo County voters passed this fund and it went into effect two months later. The excise tax provided $420,000 in scholarships for 210 high school graduates from the county to attend either Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo during the fall of that year.

The $2,000 scholarships are renewable each year for four years, and will be administered by the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that uses fundraising to help provide college scholarships for students of all races.

The program started in 2016, when 23 students were provided with $2,000 scholarships, due to an excess in excise tax.

The 2017 Pueblo County Scholarship Fund consists of $369,000 from marijuana excise tax revenue and $51,000 in grant-matching funds from the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative.

Pueblo County’s excise tax on all marijuana grown in the county started at one percent in 2016 and increased to two percent in 2017. It is estimated to increase by one percent each year until it reaches a maximum of five percent.

Sal Pace, a commissioner since 2013, served two terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, District 48-Pueblo. He was a Minority Leader in the House. He helped pass this initiative.

He stated that the scholarship program was perhaps his best accomplishment, according to a report by Csbj.com, and that sending more kids to college would have a major impact on Pueblo County.

Process of Legalisation / Why it Matters:

The process for the legalization of marijuana, however, does not depend on government officials solely, but rather it relies on the people to decide right from wrong.

“During the election year, voting for or against marijuana is done strictly on a ballot. California’s is called Proposition 64, where the people passed it. Their governor Gary Brown, he was very much dead for the legalization of marijuana,” Mr. Muraski said.

 Proposition 64 allows for citizens residing in California that are over the age of 21 to have legal possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana.  Today, the amount of people that have access to legalized marijuana, either medical or recreational, is at an all-time high.

“A lot of people do not know that it is legal in thirty states to buy medical marijuana with a medical excuse. Now we have seven states where it is legal to buy recreational marijuana, meaning that you do not need a medical excuse or doctor’s note to use it. So, in total, we have 37 out of the 50 states that have legalized marijuana,” said Mr. Muraski. “That adds up to around 220 million people out of the 300 million in the United States’ population that have access to legalized marijuana. That is where we currently are at.”

Though the legalization of marijuana is booming throughout the nation, our state does not seem to be open to legalization.

“Now I do not see the legalization of marijuana happening in the near future. Wisconsin has some of the most hard laws against marijuana usage that you will ever see in the nation. It is definitely not a drug that you want to be caught with in our state,” Mr. Muraski said.

Mr. Muraski states that the most important facet of whether or not people want to legalize marijuana is if people consider marijuana a gateway drug.

“I think that Wisconsin is so stringent because of the culture, it’s values; they might not understand the process that Colorado has done,” said Mr. Muraski.  “Wisconsin truly believes that marijuana is a gateway drug, but I can say the same thing about nicotine and alcohol. It just depends on one’s definition of what a gateway drug is.”

Those that are in favor for the legalization of marijuana tend to come from two major generations, which ultimately has lead to  legalization.

“You’ll find out that republicans are a bit more strict with the passing of these laws, whereas liberals tend to be more in favor of it,” Mr. Muraski said. “My generation, Baby Boomers, never experienced the legalization of marijuana until your (high school students) generation came. When you put Baby Boomers and Millennials voting for this together, you get the largest populations in the United States voting for this, which is why it is being passed in some states.”

A portion millennials today are getting ready for their college year, as did those in Pueblo County. The main question that we should be asking ourselves is how could marijuana taxation benefit upcoming college students in Wisconsin, if the possession of marijuana was legal?

Taxpayers: Jailing Marijuana Users in Wisconsin

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The state Department of Corrections expects to have 23,233 inmates by June 2019, slightly above the record of 23,184 it held in 2007.” Also, to run Wisconsin’s prisons, it is “expected to cost about $1.1 billion for each of the next two years.

Some people consider the usage of recreational marijuana a “victimless crime,” such as the former president of the United States, Barack Obama

“Obama called the usage of marijuana a “victimless crime”. If I ever smoked pot, who am I hurting?” Mr. Muraski said. “Let’s get back to the idea of rehabilitating our people, giving them some counseling, and get them back out there so that they can identify in our society again.”

Mr. Muraski opines that those in possession of marijuana should not be jailed for it, because of the financial burden it costs on taxpayers.

“I don’t believe that we should be locking up people that have possession of marijuana. In Wisconsin, you’ll go to jail. It’s going to wreck your life, you might not got a job, and you’re going to be in prison for at least six months,” said Mr. Muraski. “If I send you to jail for the usage of meth, it costs $24,000 per year. If I send you to jail for the usage of marijuana, it will cost $47,000 per year. So, tell me which one is better. I just don’t understand that theory, and our prisons are just overwhelmed.”

Whether or not you agree that medical and/or recreational marijuana should be legalized in Wisconsin, you cannot deny that the funds could potentially help the people that truly need it. It is the public’s duty to become more informed on policies like this, so that we can solve problems that just continue to get worse. Perhaps you believe that marijuana is a gateway drug, and that is okay. However, it is possible that policies of Pueblo County, Colorado could give ideas for the state of Wisconsin in terms of taxation. After all, Wisconsin is known for its alcohol consumers, so why not tax alcohol and put it toward something good? It would help protect the lives of people and their loved ones, while increasing educational incentives for others. Let’s “clink” to that!

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