Boulder voters may be asked to approve a 5 percent excise tax on marijuana this November that could be increased to as much as 10 percent -- but they are unlikely to see a special local sales tax on marijuana purchases on that same ballot.
Shawn Coleman, a consultant who works with marijuana businesses, said Boulder's revised pot-tax proposal is one that the industry likely can support, especially after an initial city plan that would have taxed marijuana at rates of up to 26 percent sparked strong opposition.
That plan drew protest during a public comment period at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
"It's getting to the point from the voters' perspective that it just smacks of greed," said M. Teri Robnett of the Cannabis Patients Action Network. "Marijuana is being charged with rescuing every state and local government from the downturn, and that's just wrong."
Late Tuesday night, though, the City Council instead gave initial approval to the revised proposal calling for a 5 percent excise tax, with some of the money raised by the tax to be dedicated to drug education and treatment.
Council members mostly did not support the idea of a separate sales tax on marijuana, yet they included a 5 percent sales tax in the initial vote to provide flexibility in case Denver adopts a sales tax on marijuana.
The proposal was significantly lower than what city staff put before the council -- an excise tax of up to 15 percent and a sales tax of up to 10 percent, with half the money going for drug treatment and education.
Excise taxes would be collected on grow operations and manufactured product facilities that produce marijuana in Boulder but sell it elsewhere.
Tuesday's 5-2 vote gave initial approval to placing the marijuana tax measure on the November ballot. The council will revisit the proposal again at a special meeting dedicated to ballot measures on Aug. 5.
Council members K.C. Becker, Suzy Ageton, Tim Plass and Suzanne Jones and Mayor Matt Appelbaum voted yes. Council members Lisa Morzel and Macon Cowles voted no because they wanted an undedicated excise tax capped at 5 percent. Council members George Karakehian and Ken Wilson were absent.
Colorado voters also will need to approve a state 15 percent excise tax and 15 percent sales tax on marijuana, although the actual sales tax will be 10 percent for now. Boulder will get 15 percent of the state sales tax on recreational marijuana sold within city limits.
Speakers representing the marijuana industry and users told the City Council that the initial proposed tax rate was too high. They also questioned the need for extensive funding for treatment programs for marijuana.
Ron Nixon, a marijuana advocate, said if taxes are too high, it will limit the growth of the legal industry. He said most people who want to use marijuana already do so, and already have the wherewithal to find the drug outside legal means.
"The window you have for changing consumer behavior will have passed," he told the council.
Heath Harmon, Boulder County Public Health's director of health programs, said there is evidence that marijuana use at young ages is associated with other high-risk behavior. He said public health experts believe changing social norms and perception of risk increase the risk of people starting to use at young ages.
Cowles said he saw no evidence that legal, non-medical marijuana would create additional substance abuse problems for the community.
"This is just going to be creating a bunch of bogus programs," he said.
Becker said she felt strongly that there should be some funding for education about responsible use and treatment.
"History has shown that if you don't prepare for these things, it's hard to come up with funding later," she said.