The Colorado Legislative Council Staff (LCS), described as the “nonpartisan research arm of the Colorado General Assembly,” released a report on Aug. 16 detailing how cannabis taxes are benefitting the state.
According to the analysis, Colorado annual cannabis tax revenue may have decreased in FY 2021-2022 and FY 2022-2023, but cannabis sales remain a consistent stream of funds for Colorado budget—more than any other regulated substance.
In FY 2022-2023, data shows that Colorado collected $282.3 million in cannabis tax revenue, compared to $233.9 million from cigarettes, $60.5 million from tobacco products, $56.4 million from nicotine products, and $56.1 million from alcohol.
Cannabis tax revenue comes from a 15% excise tax, 15% special sales tax, and 2.9% general sales tax. Recreational cannabis purchases are applied with the excise tax and special sales tax, but only state sales tax applies to medical cannabis sales.
In a breakdown of where cannabis tax revenue is distributed, medical cannabis 2.9% sales tax goes directly into the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund while the adult-use cannabis sales 15% special sales tax is divided into the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, State Public School Fund, and local governments. The adult-use excise tax goes directly into the BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) Fund.
Some of the state’s cannabis tax revenue funds went toward a variety of programs such as substance use disorder services ($16.6 million), affordable housing construction grants and loans ($15.3 million), school health and professionals grant program ($15 million), mental health services ($6.1 million), black market cannabis interdiction/state toxicology lab ($4.4 million), pesticide control and regulation ($1.2 million), marijuana impaired driving campaign ($1.1 million), and school bullying prevention and education ($1 million).
“Taking into account the statutory distributions and the MCTF [Marijuana Tax Revenue and Education] appropriations, K-12 education received about 37 percent of total spending from marijuana revenue for school funding and school construction,” the analysis states. “The Department of Human Services received about 20% for a variety of programs, including those focused on behavioral health and addiction.”
The distribution of cannabis tax revenue was divided among the Department of Human Services ($57.5 million), school construction ($55.9 million), school funding ($52.4 million), general fund ($30.7 million), Department of Public Health and Environment ($23.6 million), local governments ($21.9 million), Department of Local Affairs ($17.5 million), Department of Higher Education ($11 million), Department of Public Safety ($7.6 million), and “other” ($14.1 million) which includes a variety of smaller departments.
While FY 2020-2021 yielded a record high of $425 million, FY 2021-2022 decreased slightly to $366 million, followed by FY 2022-2023 at $282 million.
A report released by the Tax Policy Center in September 2022 noted both Colorado and Washington cannabis sales generated more tax revenue than alcohol or cigarettes in FY 2022.
Similar reports, such as one published by the Arizona Dispensaries Association in March 2022, showed that cannabis tax revenue reached $6.3 million, which is more than the combination of tobacco ($1.7 million) and alcohol ($2.7 million) for that month.
The California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) awards cannabis tax funds to a variety of approved organizations. The most recent annual awards contained more than $50 million from FY 2022-2023 split between 31 organizations, from government agencies to youth organizations. In FY 2020-2021, GO-Biz split $29.1 million between 16 awardees, and in FY 2021-2022, GO-Biz awarded $30 million to 58 chosen recipients. The state recently opened up a new grant application window between Aug. 14-Sept. 18, with chosen organizations to be announced sometime in spring 2024.
A report from Whitney Economics in May showed that the legal cannabis industry paid more than $1.8 billion in taxes in 2022. However, the chief economist at Whitney Economics stated that these taxes, which are driving many cannabis business owners into strife, are on the “brink of systemic collapse.”