Pot Pioneers: Colorado’s first tax windfall a gratifying payback for voters

By Bart Taylor | Feb 11, 2014

Much to the unending dismay of the Denver Post, Colorado voters continue to view legalization a wise alternative to prohibition. In a Quinnipiac survey, 58% now support legalizing pot, up from an already big majority, 55%, who voted in 2012 to change decades of public policy.

Despite the drum-beat of doubt from the Post and other media like 9News, there’s good reason to be optimistic. The system seems to be working as intended. Little seems to have changed in our communities as we regulate and tax a multi-million dollar industry already operating in our state. Voters deserve credit.

Business, predictably, is a vanguard. This week’s profile of Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, one of the state’s fastest growing businesses, is testament to the efficiency of the private sector. A year and half ago, the electorate said pot was mainstream. Today, less than eighteen months after the vote, makers in the marijuana space like Dixie are mainstream-corporate as well. The numbers don’t lie.

Regrettably for Dixie and others, the Feds still see it differently. It’s still against the law to bank an illegal business. On one hand it’s understandable; a lot has happened in a short period of time. But if the upside of legalization materializes, and it’s heading that way, it will become harder to make the case that voter-approved commerce should be embargoed by the federal government. Elected officials will have to make that case, as will candidates for office. Who will?

Colorado officials should be applauded for their work since the election. With teeth-clenched and eyes-rolled in some cases, they’ve nevertheless put in place a workable framework. Colorado’s sold pot for a month. Money’s been collected. The streets are still safe. It’s a considerable public policy achievement.

Stores will report sales on February 20th. Notwithstanding a huge surprise, it’s a good bet that everyone, including the most persistent skeptics of mainstreet pot, will be forced to concede that regulating a thriving black-market business not only has a considerable financial upside, but lays the groundwork to regulate use more effectively. Colorado’s first tax windfall will be a gratifying payback for voters.

Certainly there’s room to improve how mainstream pot is managed. Voters asked to reconsider the promise of legalization. Missing almost entirely from the Colorado conversation thus far is how media can be deployed with pot proceeds to educate young people as to the pitfalls of using.

Think tobacco - and Madison Avenue. With pot-use out of the shadows, our best creative talent can be harnessed to have a modern, substantive conversation with young people about what’s at stake, what can be lost with use. Business should lead the discussion. It has much to gain - see Dixie Elixirs - and much to lose, like a workforce.

Using media to educate young people and working in good faith to implement the economic will of voters seem two worthy objectives. If 2012 is a guide, voters will double-down and hold candidates accountable, including those who don’t take action to reduce the uncertainty facing pot entrepreneurs.

Colorado voters deserve a full-throated endorsement of their wishes from state and local candidates this fall.