In November, Amendment 64 passed with more than 55 percent of Colorado voters in support. This week, Senator John Morse, Colorado Springs’s State Senator, sponsored, along with 23 other Senators, a bill intended to put the topic back up for debate.
In addition to serving as Colorado Springs’s State Senator, Morse is the President of the Colorado Senate, and has great influence on the body. His bill, which opponents labeled a “repeal” of Amendment 64, was withdrawn before it reached the Senate floor on Monday night.
The Colorado Constitution, like the constitutions of many states in the country, is a patchwork of provisions. In addition to resolutions passed by supermajorities of both houses of the state’s General Assembly and voted on by the people, a number of initiative measures – including Amendment 64 – have been added to the document.
The controversial Amendment purports to legalize marijuana and allow the state to regulate and tax it in the same manner as alcohol. But it is not the only constitutional provision at play in the debate.
One constitutional mandate unique to Colorado is called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Among other things, TABOR requires that the people vote before any tax is levied or increased.
Because the Legislature wishes to tax marijuana – something agreed to by the marijuana “industry” before Amendment 64’s passage – it must ask the electorate for permission.
The first provision of Morse’s bill would have done just that. That is, it would have put an excise tax (an indirect tax on the industry that usually becomes “hidden” in the price of a good) of 15 percent on the ballot for voters to consider in 2013. It also would have imposed a 10 percent sales tax on pur
…chases of marijuana.
Both of those provisions are relatively uncontroversial and also appear in a bill that is moving through the Colorado House of Representatives.
What was controversial about Morse’s bill was what would happen if Coloradans – a notoriously anti-tax group of people – failed to approve the taxes on the ballot. If that had happened, under Morse’s bill voters would have had a second ballot issue: whether to continue to allow marijuana to be sold in the state.
This essentially ties the two issues together, declaring that if the state cannot collect revenue from marijuana, its sale should be banned.
According to the Denver Post, the bill was introduced on Monday evening and was passed in a committee less than an hour after that.
Over the past several days, however, Morse and other senators supporting the bill have felt the growing pressure to withdraw their support.
Members of both parties threatened to filibuster the measure, and stop or delay a floor vote on it. Some charged that the bill was an attempt to thwart the will of the voters.
There was also little chance of the bill passing the House even if it did get through the Senate. The House has its own version – without the contentious repeal provision – of the taxing measure.
Despite the criticism, Morse said that he does not view the bill as a repeal.
The Associated Press reported that Morse said, “The marijuana industry [does not have] incentive to support a tax increase it promised voters.”
Morse’s bill and the House version are just the latest in a line of legislative and executive actions in relation to Amendment 64.
Even before Governor John Hickenlooper, a moderate Democrat, signed the provision into law in December, he established a task force to examine the execution of the constitutional measure – and its legality.
Both houses of the Legislature have been trading bills back and forth dealing with the non-monetary regulating marijuana in the state, including the sale of cannabis, which they may do without approval from the voters.
Just last Friday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved a regulatory bill that had already passed the House. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are also considering pieces of legislation aimed at implementing the measure.
Morse’s bill comes at a time when he is already facing recall threats over a number of gun control bills he sponsored several months ago. His term ends in 2014; he is not eligible for reelection to the Senate.