Colorado nabbed $7 million in medical marijuana fees this weekend

This past weekend, more than 2,000 businesses in Colorado’s medical marijuana industry submitted applications for licenses to operate. The applications were due Sunday and they required applicants to include payments for state fees. Those payments amounted to more than $7 million.

AP reports that applicants so far include 717 dispensaries, 271 pot product makers and 1,071 growers.

“That amount is just at the state level,” said attorney Brian Vicente, a drug policy reform advocate who is working with Sensible Colorado on ballot initiatives seeking to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana in the state. “Denver alone collected more than a million. Colorado Springs collected lots of money.” Vicente told the Colorado Independent he agrees with estimates that the state has taken in more than $10 million in fees alone. “Triple that amount in taxes,” he said.

Calls to the Department of Revenue for confirmation of the figures were not immediately returned.

Much has been made of the cash being generated by the medical marijuana business for the recession-wracked state. Vicente says the argument being made eloquently by the cash, however, is just one factor moving the needle in the debate on wider recreational legalization of pot in the state — a debate waging in an election year that has drawn the attention of the popular national progressive blogsite and activist hub Firedoglake.

The site announced Monday it was joining the Just Say Now nonpartisan or “transpartisan” campaign to legalize marijuana in the United States. Part of the mission is to support ballot initiatives across the country that advance the cause, with the added benefit for Firedoglake leaders that initiatives on legalizing pot will draw uninspired progressive voters out to the polls this November.

That’s key in Colorado, a political battleground state and also the top tea party state in the nation. Colorado, of course, is now a trailblazer along with California in the push to legalize pot, and in the spring Colorado saw two citizen initiatives submitted for the November ballot. The hope for Firedoglake activists was that those initiatives would counter tea party enthusiasm for the midterm election. Those initiatives, however, have now been pushed back to 2012.

“We didn’t want to rush it,” Vicente said. “We wanted time to shore up resources, activate our 1,000 plus volunteers, set up community captains to lead the effort locally…”

Vicente said the environment to revise the laws is evolving fast and that the issue is clearly a motivator with certain key voter demographics.

In 2006, Amendment 44 seeking to legalize pot failed on a 61 percent to 39 percent vote. A Rasmussen poll conducted this year in May, however, found 49 percent now favor legalizing marijuana; 39 percent oppose legalization and 13 percent are undecided.

That swing has been attributed in part at least to the fact that this year lawmakers created a marijuana regulatory and tax system and, in effect, established a legal system of production. Those are hurdles cleared toward larger legalization that have everyday psychological as well as practical ramifications.

Greg Stinson, Front Range chapter president of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told News Junkie Post’s Steve Elliott that opponents of the 2006 initiative feared legalization would “help criminals because there was no legal source from which to buy pot.” In 2010, Colorado created not just a legal source but an entire industry, one of the few if not the only businesses to boom here this year.

Vicente acknowledged that the recession budget crunch is playing a strong factor in changing hearts and minds and, although he hadn’t heard of the Firedoglake/Just Say Now campaign, he said the site was right about voter turn out.

Recent Polling data shows that legalization resonates with three kinds of voters: So-called surge voters — suddenly motivated single-issue voters– single women under 40, and Latinos.

Vicente explains that the issue likely resonates with the first two groups because they are young and opinions on legalization often split along generational lines. As to Latinos, he could only speculate.

“Maybe they find that they are disproportionally targeted for arrest and jail” in the war on drugs, he said.

Colorado Republican Attorney General John Suthers, no friend to the legalization effort, suggested another vector in the evolution of opinion toward legalization in a radio debate with his opponent Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett this week.

On David Sirota’s “progressive talk” AM 760 show, he said he would prefer full legalization for adults along the lines of alcohol over the booming medical marijuana industry as it is now.

“I wouldn’t support legalization of marijuana, but I would prefer legalization to the hypocrisy we’re in now,” he said.

Vicente thought the comment was instructive.

“Suthers has been an enemy [to legalization efforts]. His comment represents some measure of frustration,” he said. “It’s a fascinating kernel, isn’t it?”

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