The unkept promise of marijuana revenue

Money makes the world go 'round. Acquiring, having, and spending money is a strong motivator for many individuals and organizations, and city and state governments are no exception. Desperate for funds, any increase in revenue is greatly appreciated as both state and local governments try to finance various public services and political promises. Therefore, it is no surprise that marijuana legalization is sold to many government leaders and voters on the premise that it can be taxed to the tune of "millions" of dollars. 

The pro pot lobby often uses ads to that effect, usually with the argument that marijuana brings “Jobs for our people. Money for our schools. Who could ask for more?” and  “Strict Regulation. Fund Education.” The idea of drugging for education certainly is a provocative one for any pot smoker: every joint you smoke is helping some poor kids in school. Sadly, this is a deluded idea that has no basis in reality. 

Unfortunately, this slick tactic worked in Colorado, where a majority of people who voted for legalization cited "tax revenue" as their reasoning. Yet the revenue, like most promises made by the pot lobby, hasn't panned out. 

Jason Glass, the Eagle County Schools Superintendent fields questions constantly about the windfall of revenue the county is supposedly receiving from the marijuana retail shops (that now outnumber both McDonald's and Starbucks combined). Glass reports, however, that Eagle County hasn’t received any money from Proposition AA, in which Colorado voters approved an excise tax on retail marijuana that would go toward public schools.

Many come up to me assuming we’re rolling in cash because of marijuana taxes, and that’s just not the case
— Jason Glass, Eagle County Schools Superintendent

Kathy Gebhardt, who helps oversee the state’s school-construction grant program reported that the policy’s education focus gives the false impression that schools are getting the funding they need: “Yes, we got some money. The last grant round, we got to fix some boilers and roofs, but legislators are still using that $40 million number. People believe that the facilities problem in Colorado have been fixed by [marijuana revenue] and it hasn’t.”

Jason Glass echoes that, saying “These issues are supposed to create a windfall for schools, and historically they never pan out to the level,” he said. “Going forward, it’s hard to say how much (marijuana taxes) will eventually bring in, but it may take years or decades to get to $40 million. My professional opinion is that it’s the wrong approach. It’s a sad commentary on our state that we have to rely to these gimmicks to fund education.”

Research on the politicking around the legalization campaign offers further insight into the realities of the marijuana tax, suggesting that the use of education as a selling point for legalization could even undermine long-term efforts to improve Colorado’s public-school system.

                                                                 Colorado leads the nation in teen pot use 

                                                                 Colorado leads the nation in teen pot use 

The preliminary research, out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offers the latest case study within a wider body of research on the exploitation of education “as a topic to sell voters on policy proposals that condone previously illegal behavior,” the analysts write. As past studies reveal, using education to justify the legalization of formerly condemned activities often serves as a selling point in name only. In short, using vices such as marijuana as tax revenue doesn't work.

Denver Public Schools knows this. They recently released a video stating that they have received no money from marijuana revenue. The Schools outside Denver that did receive funding reported receiving very little.

Andrew Freedman, Colorado's director of marijuana coordination, said that most of the money from marijuana is going to the cost of legalization. 

“You do not legalize for taxation. It is a myth. You are not going to pave streets. You are not going to be able to pay teachers,” Andrew Freedman, director of Marijuana Coordination for Colorado, said on Boston Herald Radio yesterday. “The big red herring is the whole thing that the tax revenue will solve a bunch of crises. But it won’t.”

In the end, pot as a revenue for education is a fraudulent sales tactic that falls flat once you pull off the lot. Phyllis Resnik, the lead economist for the Colorado Futures Center, told the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline last September that she hopes other states learn from Colorado: “All these promises that get made about free money to solve problems, marijuana is not going to be that.” So we ask: where are the marijuana groups that lobbied so hard for pot on the platform of funding education? Now that legalization is enacted, what do they care? 


Alia Wong. "The False Promise of Marijuana Money in Education"

Melanie Wong. "Marijuana tax projections falling short"