Denver ballot initiative to raise cannabis taxes for afterschool programs pulled by backers

My Spark Denver would have asked voters to add a 4.5 percent sales tax to already high cannabis taxes in the city.
2 min. read
Marijuana grows in The Clinic’s warehouse in Denver’s Overland neighborhood. March 19, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

A ballot initiative called My Spark Denver, which would have raised cannabis taxes to pay for youth programs -- things like tutoring and mental health -- was withdrawn from the city's November ballot.

But that doesn't mean the idea is dead, according to the initiative's backers.

"We think it's good news for us," said Mike Johnston, who heads Gary Community Ventures, a foundation focused on equity and families. They contributed all of the $270,000 spent on the campaign. He said the group compromised with the city and the cannabis industry. They all agreed, he said, with the initiative's goals, of getting more kids into programs outside of school. "Everyone wanted to find a collaborative solution."

The details aren't totally worked out. But Johnston said there would be a pilot program next year for 4,000 Denver Public School students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, to access additional youth programs. Evidence shows the additional help makes a significant positive impact in kids.

The now-withdrawn ballot measure would have asked voters to add a 4.5 percent sales tax to already high cannabis taxes in the city. The money would have gone to a non-profit that would distribute the tax dollars to eligible families for enrichment programs.

Friday was the deadline for withdrawing the question before ballots were printed. Organizers had collected 18,908 signatures, enough to qualify for the ballot in August.

Johnston also acknowledged that cannabis businesses suffered recently. Sales peaked during the pandemic but have fallen since, according to state data. Store owners said the recent closing of Buddy Boy, a chain of cannabis stores, is an example of the tough times.

"We are encouraged that this vital out-of-school education program for the benefit of all Denver's kids is moving ahead," Chuck Smith, Board President of Colorado Leads, a marijuana industry group, said in a statement. "We look forward to joining all of Denver's business community in equally supporting future policies that provide needed learning opportunities for Denver's kids."

Johnston of Gary Community Ventures is considering a run for mayor of Denver in the Spring elections next year. He said his potential run did not have any impact on pulling this initiative. "That is not my focus right now," said Johnston, a former Democratic state senator. "Our only focus was on families."

Recent Stories