November 5, 2015 / 3:06 AM / 4 years ago

Colorado county votes fund college scholarships with marijuana tax

DENVER (Reuters) - Students attending college in a southern Colorado county will soon have a chance to tap into the state’s lucrative legal marijuana industry after voters approved a tax on local cannabis growing operations to fund scholarships for higher education.

Voters in Pueblo County approved by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin a measure that imposes a 5 percent excise tax on cultivators who supply Colorado’s medical and recreational marijuana industries, the county clerk’s office said on Wednesday.

Beginning in 2017, any high school graduate in the county will be eligible to apply for the scholarship, the Board of Pueblo County Commissioners said in a statement.

The three-member board referred the measure to voters as a way to provide more opportunities for local students to advance their educations at either Colorado State University-Pueblo or Pueblo Community College.

“It’s due time that we make college affordable for everyone in our community,” Commissioner Sal Pace said.

The money will be available to prospective students in any field of study and county officials believe the program is the first of its kind in the nation.

“There are some scholarships that come out of the legal marijuana industry but our preliminary research showed that this is the first to come from tax revenue,” said Pueblo County spokeswoman Paris Carmichael.

Colorado is among four states and the District of Columbia where voters have approved recreational cannabis use by adults. About two dozen states allow cannabis use for medical purposes.

Under the plan, each year at least 50 percent of the revenue derived from the pot tax will be set aside in a cash fund for the scholarships.

The tax will be phased in over five years, and the county estimates the fund will reach $5 million when it is fully implemented by 2020, according to the ballot question’s language.

The remaining receipts from the tax will go toward medical marijuana research, road and hiking trail upgrades, refurbishing a historic courthouse and other public improvement projects, officials said.

Carmichael could not provide the number of marijuana cultivation sites in the county but she said the majority are outdoor growing operations.

The climate in the area is warmer than other parts of Colorado and the 160,000-resident county has long been known for agriculture. Pueblo is home to the annual Colorado State Fair & Rodeo.

Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Colorado

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