Marijuana Taxes Provide $420K in College Scholarships for Colorado Students


Taxes on recreational marijuana sales finance the Pueblo County Scholarship Fund, which awarded $420,000 in college scholarships this year.

Pueblo County in Colorado is using a portion of the tax revenue it collects from retail marijuana sales to fund college scholarships for its high school seniors. Half of the tax dollars generated from the county’s 2 percent excise tax goes to the scholarship fund, which awarded 210 students $2,000 each for the 2017-18 academic year. In total, the fund awarded $420,000 in scholarships.

The Pueblo County Scholarship Fund is open to all Pueblo County high school graduates who plan on staying in the county and attending Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo. The Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation administers the scholarship funds.

“For years, our community has discussed creating local scholarships that could provide opportunity and help break cycles of poverty,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace told The Cannabist. “The Pueblo County Scholarship Fund will change lives, families and benefit generations to come.”

Pueblo County voters approved the excise tax in 2015. The remaining half of Pueblo County’s cannabis tax dollars are utilized for “community enhancement projects.” The fund was designed to ensure that the people of Pueblo, rather than just those working within the cannabis industry, benefit from the growing market.

“I don’t think without this scholarship I could continue my education without taking out loans and worry about how to pay it back,” Colorado State University freshman Janet Calzadillas told CBS Denver.

Pueblo County has become a hub for cannabis growers, thanks to the region’s abundant natural resources. Pueblo’s recreational and medical marijuana plant count is second only to Denver County.

“There are vast opportunities in cannabis – from growing to research – and we want to make sure all Coloradans benefit, not just a select few,” Pace said.

A pilot version of the scholarship fund was launched last year, awarding 23 students a total of $50,000 in college monies. There are typically 300 to 400 Pueblo County graduating students that attend the county’s two colleges. The scholarship fund will be available to graduating seniors every year, with applications due in April.

Colorado generated $1.3 billion in total marijuana sales in 2016, providing the state with $200 million in marijuana tax revenue. Monthly sales have surpassed $100 million for 11 months in a row. So far this year, sales have generated more than $76.3 million in revenue for the state through taxes and fees. Tax dollars have already been directed toward the state’s homeless population and public school system.

“A couple years ago, these are dollars that would have been going to the black market, drug cartels,” Pace told CBS Denver. “Now money that’s used to fund drug cartels is now being used to fund college scholarships.”

Colorado is one of eight U.S. states to pass laws legalizing recreational marijuana, although some analysts believe nationwide legalization is just a few years away. A recent report suggested that marijuana would outsell ice cream if it were legal in all 50 states.

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