The Colorado legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill asking voters to impose taxes on recreational marijuana, inching the state legislature closer to becoming the first in the country to pass laws regulating recreational pot.
The state Senate approved the tax measure and another one spelling out rules for marijuana stores and then sent both to the House on Wednesday morning. The House quickly passed House Bill 1318, the bill on marijuana taxes, and sent it to the governor. House members will now take up the second measure.
Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, said on the Senate floor there could be some “bounce back-and-forth” between the two chambers during the final day of the session.
The Senate’s votes Wednesday morning came with little discussion. One day after lengthy debates on both bills, only Scheffel stood to speak about the bills on Wednesday.
Addressing House Bill 1318, Scheffel said he has reservations about a system of more open and legal access to marijuana. He said he worries about the impact marijuana legalization will have on kids, but he decided to support the tax bill.
“This is a true game-changer for our state,” Scheffel said. “And so I think it is important that we do our best to implement the right regulatory environment and fund it.”
House Bill 1318 would impose a 15 percent excise tax and a sales tax initially set at 10 percent on recreational marijuana sales. Voters this November would have to give their approval of the tax rates before they could take effect. The money would be used for school construction and for regulation of marijuana stores.
Many of the rules for those stores are spelled out in House Bill 1317, the second bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday. Under the bill, marijuana stores would need to be licensed by the state and owned by Colorado residents.
For the first nine months, only current medical-marijuana dispensary owners could apply to open recreational pot shops. The first recreational marijuana stores to open would have to grow what they sell, but wholesale growers and stand-alone retailers would be allowed starting in October 2014.
The Senate amended the bill to bar cities from operating pot shops, as Aurora had considered doing, and to ban incorporated marijuana collectives that would skirt pot-shop regulations.
The stores are authorized by Amendment 64, the marijuana-legalization measure that Colorado voters approved in November.
The effort to regulate marijuana legalization has been an arduous one at the Capitol. It began last year, when a special task force convened to recommend rules for recreational marijuana to lawmakers.
A special legislative committee then worked those recommendations into bills, which began the journey through the full legislature. House Bill 1317, alone, saw 132 proposed amendments.
After both bills cleared the Senate on Wednesday, Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, asked lawmakers to applaud the work of legislative staff, who worked long hours to keep tabs on changes to the bills.
“I think we really owe a huge thank you,” Morse said.