Colorado is using pot tax money to save programs funded by big tobacco settlement |

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

A medical marijuana customer counts out cash for a transaction at Native Roots in unincorporated Boulder County surrounded by Longmont City Limits on July 15, 2016.
Matthew Jonas/The Denver Post

For more than two decades, Colorado has received hundreds of millions of dollars from its share of settlements with tobacco companies — money that has been used to support dozens of programs, including one that helps first-time moms — that came from lawsuits to recoup the costs of health care 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.”

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