Colorado: Lawmakers Discussing Repeal of Marijuana Legalization
By Steve Elliott
Behind the scenes, Colorado lawmakers are talking about introducing a measure that could repeal marijuana legalization in the state, according to advocacy groups on both sides of the issue.
State lawmakers are considering a bill to tax newly legal marijuana by more than 30 percent. Some of them want to add a caveat to the tax proposal -- that cannabis won't be legal anymore unless voters approve the taxes in November.
Legalization supporters called a Friday morning news conference to decry the effort, reports John Ingold at The Denver Post. "Numerous" lawmakers are looking at putting a measure before voters that would repeal marijuana legalization in Colorado if voters don't agree to a measure on marijuana taxes this November, said Mason Tvert, one of the authors of Amendment 64, the initiative which legalized cannabis.
The tax measure, which was approved by one legislative committee on Thursday and another on Friday, would place state sales and excise taxes on marijuana that could reach 30 percent of the retail price.
So far, no lawmakers have publicly mentioned a proposal to repeal legalization.
"Placing such a (repeal) measure on the ballot would amount to extortion of the voters," Tvert said. "They will be told that they must vote for whatever taxes the legislators choose in order to prevent the repeal of the constitutional amendment they just approved."
Smart Colorado is the group behind the repeal plan, according to Tvert. It's a newly formed organization that claims it is devoted to minimizing marijuana's impact on the state. Although the group has the same name as the campaign committee that opposed Amendment 64, as well as an attorney and several donors in common, Smart Colorado supporters claim the two are separate organizations.
Smart Colorado confirmed the legalization repeal plans but said they didn't originate with the group.
"Several legislators floated the concept and instructed Legislative Legal Services to draft the proposal," Smart Colorado spokesman Eric Anderson said. "We talked to many legislators about the concept throughout the day. Although it's not our proposal, we appreciate the leadership demonstrated by its authors and believe it's worthy of consideration."
Anderson said the repeal measure would be half of a two-part proposal that would appear on November's ballot in Colorado. He said the repeal measure would only be decided if voters turn down a separate marijuana tax measure. Under the current plan, the money collected from that tax measure would be used to regulate the cannabis industry.
"If voters don't now approve new taxes on marijuana, Colorado's budget will take a major hit and Amendment 64 will have exactly the opposite effect from what was promised to votes," Anderson crowed.
Because Amendment 64 is part of the state constitution, any repeal would have to be constitutional, as well. Lawmakers must approve such measures with two-thirds support in order for them to get on the ballot, and there are only 13 days left in this legislative session.
Tvert argued that the state constitution only allows fiscal matters to appear on the ballot in odd-numbered years. "We are surprised that legislators are even taking this proposal seriously," he said.
But Anderson claimed the repeal proposal "was thoroughly considered by the General Assembly's attorneys and carefully drafted to comply with the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights."
Lawmakers say they fear if voters don't approve the tax plan, marijuana regulations will be underfunded.
"Without this measure, we won't be able to implement a model that will ensure our communities can be kept safe," claimed Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) who sponsors the tax plan bill, House Bill 1318.
Several lawmakers said on Friday morning that HB 1318's tax rates were set too high.
"I don't think the voters will accept that," said Rep. Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland).