By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Colorado lawmakers want to spend about $24 million in pot revenues on three major priorities: youth prevention, law enforcement and drug treatment.
The long-awaited bill that would parcel out revenues from the first six months of recreational pot sales, along with taxes on medical marijuana, passed unanimously out of its first committee on Wednesday.
But lawmakers who supported the bill indicated they want to tinker with it when it heads to the Senate floor sometime in the next few days. Senate Bill 14-215 has the support of the six bipartisan members of the Joint Budget Committee, all of whom agreed to defend specific spending priorities. But lobbyists have been working fiercely behind the scenes, and lawmakers will try to ensure that new pot funds support their favorite programs.
As introduced, the bill would fund:
- $5.8 million and about four staffers for a public health campaign
- $3 million plus a staff person for more school nurses
- $3.2 million for school-based behavioral health
- $2 million for school-based marijuana treatment and prevention
- $2 million for teen pot prevention through Boys and Girls Clubs under the Tony Grampsas youth services program
- $2 million to expand drug treatment in county jails
- $2 million to expand diversion programs for juvenile offenders
- $1.5 million to for drug treatment for young people and pregnant women
- $1 million and one staffer for a Healthy Kids Survey
- About $1.7 million and three staffers for law enforcement training and special prosecutions
- About $200,000 and two staffers in the governor’s office for marijuana coordination
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, introduced the bill to members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. He has previously said that the mix of spending is a balanced package and he told lawmakers that it’s prudent not to spend pot taxes until the state has collected them. Furthermore, Steadman said it’s unclear what the federal government ultimately will decide to do about recreational marijuana sales since the feds still view pot as an illegal Schedule 1 drug.
Steadman said it was important to the budget committee members and to Gov. John Hickenlooper that money from pot sales relate directly to public health and prevention programs.
“This is our first foray into using legal marijuana tax revenues to support various social programs, law enforcement programs and educational programs,” Steadman said.
He said he doesn’t want fellow lawmakers just viewing the revenues as a new “cash cow.”
No one opposed the bill in the health committee Wednesday.
Those who spoke in favor of it praised the budget committee members for their focus on prevention and early intervention to keep pot out of the hands of kids and to try to minimize addiction.
Matt Sundeen who is executive director of the Colorado Providers Association, a group representing treatment providers, said it’s vital to focus on preventing abuse and providing treatment.
“We’re early in this experiment,” Sundeen said. “I think there’s a lot that we don’t know about legalization. But we know a lot about marijuana already. Legalization has increased the amount of marijuana that’s available in Colorado. It has increased in its potency. We know marijuana is consumable in more forms today.”
Sundeen said the perception of risk among young people also has decreased and that puts more of them at risk for problems later.
“We know Colorado struggles more than most states with substance abuse,” Sundeen said.
Alison Maffey, a policy and communications coordinator in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s prevention branch, said the marijuana campaign and Healthy Kids Survey would help the state try to prevent problems with everything from edibles to hash oil. She said gathering data is essential so health workers can figure out if use is climbing.
So far, Maffey said data show an increase in calls to poison control hotlines and spikes in hospital ER trips related to marijuana.
Maffey said more young people are now trying marijuana than tobacco.
“Adolescents do not see (marijuana) as risky. They say, ‘it’s medical,’ ‘it’s good for you.’ We have data on their access over the years and how that has changed,” she said.
Hickenlooper originally had wanted to spend closer to $100 million right away on youth prevention, treatment and law enforcement. During an interview Wednesday with Colorado Public Radio, the governor said it’s wise to wait for the revenues to come in before spending them.
“The notion to scale things back probably makes a lot of sense,” Hickenlooper told CPR’s Ryan Warner. (Click here to listen to the interview.)
The governor said he wants to be sure that young people don’t suffer “undue consequences” and go off the rails or drop out of school in higher numbers because they can more easily access marijuana.
“If that turns out to be a significant problem, it’s going to take resources,” Hickenlooper said.
For now, he said the $5.8 million for a pubic education campaign will allow Colorado officials to send a strong message: “You can’t smoke pot out in public. Kids under 21 are not allowed to smoke it. You cannot drive high.”
Hickenlooper said he’s going to be “very serious” in enforcing the law.
“Five million for a program like that is a healthy start,” the governor told CPR. “I’d rather have $10 (million) or maybe even $12 (million), but $5 million is a good start.”