Since the legal cannabis industry was implemented in Colorado in 2014, the state has been able to do a lot of things they never would have thought imaginable thanks to marijuana-based tax revenue. However, even with the amount of revenue the new legal industry brings in, there is still a gap between what the state brings in each year and how much is needed to maintain certain programs; plus there are still problems growing out of hand that the state has so far been able to do nothing about.
In order to try and find a bit of balance, Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper has made several changes to this year’s proposed budget that would cut down on budgeting in certain areas that are known to benefit from marijuana legalization – schools, healthcare and transportation. While there would be some cutbacks in those areas, he has also proposed $18 million towards a new program that would create affordable housing for the homeless and mentally ill.
Safe, affordable and clean housing is definitely hard to come by for people who find themselves homeless, or those with mental illness who struggle to hold down a job. It has also been one of the Governor’s priority issues over the years – even when he was the Mayor of Denver. Now that they have additional revenue coming in from the cannabis industry, he thought it ought to be spread out a little more and put to good use. While it may take some funds away from other projects, it is definitely an area of concern that needs addressed.
“Taking what used to be an illegal activity, now that it’s legal and taxable, using it to address another social ill is an opportunity we felt important to take advantage of, and one that would make some sense to the public,” Sobanet (the Governor’s budgeting director) recently told Colorado Public Radio.
There is also $16 million that was allocated to cutting down on those who are still operating illegally in the cannabis industry – which is a key part of ensuring that legalization can work effectively. The idea behind regulation is to ensure safe and quality product and that it is only sold to those who are old enough to legally consume it – all things that are too often overlooked in the illegal market. Plus, as the black-market shuts down, more revenue will be brought into the legal industry, providing more revenue for the state.
“It’s one of those budgets where I’m certainly going to be the least popular person in the state with an awful lot of people,” Governor Hickenlooper said.
Of course, there are people who will not agree with reducing the funding available for schools and healthcare, as well as other areas that will see reductions to allow for this change. In the end, the Governor is trying to ensure that all important issues are being attended to, at least to some degree – and even with the changes he’s made in the proposal, there is still a lot of funding going to these projects and programs that would have never been available if it weren’t for voters approving Amendment 64.
“This provides a baseline for discussion,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, a Colorado Springs Republican and top budget writer. “But frankly, this is not going to be what the budget looks like at the end of the day. A lot — a lot — depends on the outcome of the elections next week.”
At this point, the budget is still not final. It will still have to be reviewed by members of the Senate and House of Representatives before it is approved – and it will likely see rewrites throughout the process. How this budget will look by the end of the year will largely depend on who gets voted into office in the next week. But hopefully certain changes – especially those trying to create affordable housing for those in need – will remain a part of the final budget.