Cannabis plants grow inside a cultivation facility near Lafayette on Dec. 13, 2018. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Stell Simonton, Chalkbeat 

Denver’s after-school programs have been a major beneficiary of the city’s special retail marijuana sales tax. As efforts to legalize marijuana spread, after-school leaders in dozens of cities are taking this lesson home.

Last year Denver collected about $46 million in marijuana tax, said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock. The Denver Afterschool Alliance now receives $1.5 million yearly for after-school and summer learning programs and has expanded programs in under-resourced neighborhoods and provided more training for the program staff.

“Denver became the first city in the U.S. to implement recreational marijuana,” Hancock told a gathering in Denver earlier this month organized by Every Hour Counts, a national coalition devoted to building citywide after-school systems and expanding learning opportunities to all youth. “If people are going to buy marijuana, then we’re going to make sure it supports our young people.”

MORE: Where does Colorado’s marijuana tax money go? The state made a flow chart to answer the $1 billion question

In 2012 Colorado approved the recreational use of marijuana for adults, with a tax earmarking some funds for education. Denver also levied a special tax on marijuana sales — now 5.5% — so that the total marijuana tax rate in the city is about 25%.

The ability to make a strong case for the benefits of out-of-school time programs was critical in gaining a share of the city’s special sales tax, said Maxine Quintana, director of out-of-school time Initiatives for Denver’s Office of Children’s Affairs and co-founder of the Denver Afterschool Alliance, a network of after-school providers.