A key selling point of Amendment 64 (the amendment which legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado) was how the tax revenue would go towards funding public schools. However, three years have passed since the legalization of pot in Colorado and few schools can say they are reaping the benefits, especially because the money is limited to capital improvement projects.
“All of our taxes that you have to pay have an ear mark on them which is a very specific thing that they go to. So, the dollars that are set aside through a program called BEST gets tax money from oil and gas and now marijuana. That all goes into a giant pool at the state and then districts can apply, it’s not guaranteed, but they can apply for a capital improvement project,” said the Assistant Principal at Durango High School, Brandon Thurston.
Public schools are primarily funded by property taxes, both on the local and state level. However, schools are not given a choice on how they spend their money and when it comes to marijuana, it’s limited to construction projects.
This summer, Durango High School rebuilt the football field and the parking lot which technically could have been payed for by using marijuana tax revenue.
“I don’t know how those capital improvement projects were funded. Most of BEST funded projects –including the marijuana money stuff– is saved for really high need districts that have put off capital improvement projects for a really long time,” said Thurston.
So three years have passed and Colorado public schools have not experienced the gold rush they were told to expect. However, as Jr. Alden Spitzer points out legalization has it’s perks.
“I think there are a number of benefits to the legalization of marijuana. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and spends billions of dollars every year housing people serving 15, 20 year sentences for having only a tiny amount of marijuana. Money that would be better spent rebuilding infrastructure, funding schools, and closing redundancies in the healthcare system,” said Spitzer.
Legalization also allows people who need help with substance abuse to seek out professional assistance. Which, in Colorado, is significant because of the high rates of substance abuse and depression. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SMASHA) the annual average of any person over the age of twelve in the state of Colorado is 19.3 percent, five points higher than the national average.
Like Spitzer says: “There is revenue our community gains from tourists coming to Durango as a result of legalized marijuana. Overall, the effects of legalizing marijuana have been good.”
Pot will not solve all of Colorado’s problems but it can help open the door to many discussions and opportunities that did not exist previously. Such as, allowing people to seek professional help without the fear of being imprisoned. It can promote tourism, which many Colorado ski-towns’ economies rely heavily. However, marijuana tax revenue cannot save Colorado public schools. That is a much larger problem.