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Colorado voters will decide whether to raise marijuana taxes to boost out-of-school learning

Initiative 25 would impose a new 3% sales tax on recreational marijuana starting on Jan. 1 and increasing to 5% by Jan. 1, 2024. That's in addition to the existing 15% state sales tax on recreational marijuana.

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

Colorado voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to increase the state’s marijuana sales tax rate to support out-of-school learning.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office ruled Wednesday that supporters of Initiative 25 gathered enough signatures to secure a spot on the upcoming ballot. Backers of the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program Initiative, also known as LEAP, easily met the 124,632-signature threshold to qualify for the 2021 statewide election.

Initiative 25 would impose a new 3% sales tax on recreational marijuana starting Jan. 1 and increasing to 5% by Jan. 1, 2024, at which point it would generate about $138 million a year. That’s in addition to the existing 15% state sales tax on recreational marijuana.

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The ballot measure also would divert $22 million in state land board revenue to the LEAP program.

Advocates are touting Initiative 25 as a solution to closing learning gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers — gaps that some educators, parents and advocates fear may have widened during the pandemic. Money would be directed toward tutoring and after-school programs, as well as academic summer camps.

Low-income students would be prioritized to receive assistance from the initiative.

“We’ve seen a substantial disparity in opportunities to access after-school and summer programs in Colorado for years based largely on kids’ race and their family income,” Mike Johnston, president and CEO of Gary Community Ventures, said in a written statement. “And new test scores show alarming evidence of major learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic — particularly for students of color and those who receive free and reduced-price lunch. Initiative 25 is our chance to get our students back on track by providing additional educational support.”

hefty roster of Republican and Democratic lawmakers and former officeholders are backing the initiative, including former Govs. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, and Bill Owens, a Republican.

Opponents argue the initiative will pave the way for school voucher programs to get a foothold in Colorado. Voucher programs, which have grown in other states, give families public funding to pay for private school tuition.

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The marijuana industry is also generally anxious about increased taxes on its products for consumers.

Two other statewide questions are expected to be on the November ballot after supporters turned in more signatures than they needed to the Secretary of State’s Office earlier this month.

Initiative 19 seeks to mandate more legislative oversight of how money, including from legal settlements and the federal government, is spent. Initiative 27 seeks to lower property taxes.


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