Higher Learning: Colorado county mulls scholarship pot tax

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DENVER (AP) — Talk about higher learning. A Colorado county may create the world's first public college scholarship program funded with marijuana money.

Pueblo County is considering a 5 percent excise tax on marijuana growers, with half the proceeds designated to a scholarship fund that boosters say would be the first of its kind.

County Commissioner Sal Pace, the sponsor of the tax measure, says it could produce a couple million dollars a year. The full commission will vote on his proposal next week, and if approved, voters would have to approve the excise tax in November before it would take effect.

"What the concept is, is to create the world's first college scholarships funded by marijuana growers," Pace said.

Fifty percent of the proposed excise tax would be divided among Pueblo County high school graduates who stay in the county for college.

Pace called his proposed pot scholarship a natural next step for marijuana legalization. The statewide pot-legalization measure specifically mentioned schools as a beneficiary of pot taxes.

"These are the type of promises folks expected when they approved" marijuana, Pace said.

Pace guessed the excise tax measure could produce a couple million dollars a year. It's too soon to say how much each student would receive, though Pace guessed it might be about $500.

The fund would be limited for at least the first year to county residents that go on to college in the county, either at Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo. Currently that's about 400 students.

The other half of the proposed excise tax would be assigned to a long list of county capital improvements, such as spiffing up the streets around the Colorado State Fairgrounds located in town. The county list also includes repairing an elementary school playground and repairing bike trails at Pueblo Reservoir.

Pace didn't worry that the excise tax — which would boost overall taxes on marijuana wholesalers to 20 percent — would chill the county's booming pot-growing trade. Many growers in recent months have shifted production away from Denver-area warehouses, where real estate is pricier and indoor growing requires hefty electricity bills.

"It won't be a tax that drives away producers," Pace said. "Land is cheaper here, water is available, the sunshine is free and there's an available workforce."


Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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