Pot Tax Funds 25 College Scholarships in Colorado

By McCarton Ackerman 06/29/16

A marijuana tax initiative passed last year aims to give as many as 400 Pueblo County students money to attend local colleges each year.

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Pot Tax Funds 25 College Scholarships in Colorado

The first-ever college scholarships funded by marijuana excise taxes have been announced, with Pueblo County in Colorado announcing it has set aside $750,000 for high school seniors.

Last week, 25 Pueblo County students were awarded $2,000 scholarships—half the money coming from marijuana excise taxes and the other $1,000 coming from a Colorado opportunity grant. According to the Denver Post, Pueblo County garnered nearly $227,000 in funding from the 2015-16 Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative matching scholarship grant.

Sal Pace, Pueblo County commissioner for District 3, had worked on legislation to earmark half of marijuana excise taxes for college scholarships and the other half for community improvement projects. Four hundred students could receive scholarships next year, and can use the money to attend either Colorado State University-Pueblo or Pueblo Community College. As a county with a significant Hispanic/Latino population, the money can go a long way for some students, who now have the opportunity to become the first person in their families to go to college.

“Getting the scholarship, I believe, is a very great opportunity. It gives me that extra motivation to go and achieve school,” said Xavier Madrid, a scholarship recipient and first-generation college student who plans to pursue liberal studies and become an elementary school educator. “I’m humbled to be one of the first ever to receive the scholarship, and I believe it’s more than just marijuana money.”

Pueblo County commissioners partnered with the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, a private organization that has raised money for student scholarships since the 1980s, to help distribute the scholarship money. Pace wants Pueblo to attract more high-tech companies in order to help boost its sagging economy, but acknowledged that a relative lack of college graduates in the area made this difficult.

He asked: “We want an educated workforce to bring in high-tech companies, but how do we get the educated workforce without the high-tech companies?” 

Pueblo County should have no problem continuing to set money aside for the scholarships, as the legal marijuana industry continues to boom throughout the state. Legal marijuana sales totaled $1 billion last year in Colorado. The state collected $135 million in taxes and fees from marijuana sales. About $35 million was raised for school construction from the 15% excise tax. The state is on track to break $1 billion this year, with $270 million in pot sales for the first three months of 2016.

Although it’s a comparative drop in the bucket compared to the state’s most recent $26.4 billion budget, legal marijuana is now almost as big an industry in Colorado as craft beer. 

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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