Colorado is using pot tax money to save programs funded by big tobacco settlement
Decade-old funding stream ends so lawmakers rely on pot cash
For more than two decades Colorado has received hundreds of millions of dollars from its share of settlements with tobacco companies — money that’s been used to support dozens of programs including one that helps first-time moms — that came from lawsuits to recoup the costs of healthcare spending attributed to smoking-related illnesses.
But that money is already starting to dwindle, so state legislators have scrambled to find a source of funds that could ensure those helpful programs don’t disappear.
The most obvious, if not ironic, source: marijuana money.
“Everyone thought it was mad money, that it would go on in perpetuity, that it could fund everything,” former Sen. Pat Steadman said of his time on the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee and how it viewed tobacco settlement funds flowing into the state. “But we were seeing problems with the declining stream of tobacco revenue. And as marijuana money was increasing, I saw a chance to change the trajectory of some of those programs, instead of seeing them decline just as tobacco money was doing.”
Though the payments from 53 tobacco manufacturers to 46 states are to run a minimum of 25 years and total at least $206 billion — Colorado has already received nearly $1.7 billion for its share of the more than $119 billion thus paid nationally — a smaller stream of that money was about to end.
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