Initiative 300 — marijuana taxes for pandemic research — results: The opposition leads

It would raise taxes on recreational cannabis sales by 1.5 percent, or $7 million annually, to pay for local pandemic research.

Marijuana grows in The Clinic's warehouse in Denver's Overland neighborhood. March 19, 2021.

Marijuana grows in The Clinic's warehouse in Denver's Overland neighborhood. March 19, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
kyle harris

Results as of 11:30 p.m.: The opposition to Initiated Ordinance 300 leads by 59.73%, with 48,823 votes against and 32,915 votes votes in favor of the measure to increase recreational marijuana taxes.

Initiated Ordinance 300 would raise taxes on recreational cannabis sales by 1.5 percent, or $7 million annually, to pay for local pandemic research through the University of Colorado Denver CityCenter. That would include technologies for pandemic protection, disinfection and sterilization and public policy and planning. Medical cannabis sales would not be affected.

The CityCenter team had not heard of the initiative before it was submitted to the ballot and has no current plans to run such a program.

“The University of Colorado has not taken a position on Initiated Ordinance 300,” CU Denver spokesperson Ryan Huff told Denverite in October. “CU Denver became aware of the proposed ballot initiative in the summer of 2020 when the campaign group first suggested the idea. We are not involved in the campaign. Since this is still before the voters, we have not made tangible plans on how to use the funds, if passed. However, as Denver’s only public urban research university, we have award-winning faculty and an experienced research office that are ready and capable of administering new grants.”

So how did the initiative get on the ballot? The Delaware-registered advocacy group Guarding Against Pandemics funded the effort.

The tax, which would be an additional 15 cents on the $10 purchase, would be used as follows: 75 percent would go to local pandemic research and 25 percent would pay for public policy and planning initiatives through CityCenter. No more than 8 percent could cover administrative costs. After 20 years, the focus of research could be expanded. Each year, the program would receive an audit and share how it spent revenue.

While Guarding Against Pandemics is a social-welfare nonprofit, and therefore not required to disclose donors, cryptocurrency billionaire and Democratic funder Sam Bankman-Fried is listed as its sole backer on the initiative’s website.

The measure’s supporters say the public was taken off guard by COVID-19 and and needs better research to be prepared for future pandemics. By supporting local research, they argue, Denver could become a pandemic-preparedness leader.

Anti-tax conservatives have objected to the bill, calling it “a pointless tax grab.” If taxes are raised on marijuana, some argue, the industry might shift back to the black market and ultimately justify more taxes to fight crime.

Since CU Denver CityCenter wasn’t involved in the measure, opponents also argue the program’s goals may never come to fruition and the money could be diverted to unknown purposes.

Election results are not final until they’ve been certified, days or sometimes weeks after Election Day. The Associated Press is not calling races in Colorado this year, and Denverite doesn’t call races. We will report vote tallies as they are counted and reported by the Denver Elections, and we will report if a group supporting or opposing a ballot measure concedes defeat.

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