- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Colorado reaffirmed its support for taxing marijuana in an election that showed that a state skeptical of most taxes fully supports extracting revenue from a growing pot industry.

The first state to legalize recreational pot sales voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to keep $66 million in recreational marijuana taxes raised last year. Voters embraced the state’s suggested spending plan for weed taxes: Schools, anti-drug efforts and money to regulate pot.

The only statewide ballot measure Tuesday had broad support from Democrats, Republicans, the marijuana industry and nearly every newspaper in Colorado. There was no organized opposition, and it passed easily even in conservative parts of the state known for rejecting taxes.

Colorado sold about $700 million worth of marijuana in 2014, the first year with retail pot shops. That number is expected to climb significantly in 2015 as more shops open. The state crossed the $100 million-a-month mark in August.

State law requires excess tax revenue to be returned to taxpayers, but voters agreed to make an exception with the marijuana revenue and direct it instead toward public education and drug-prevention programs.

If it had failed, Colorado taxpayers would have received refunds whether they purchased pot or not. The vote also means Colorado won’t have to roll back 10 percent sales taxes on recreational marijuana or refund a 15 percent excise tax on pot growers.

“I think there are enough issues with marijuana that we need some of that money to deal with them,” said one Denver voter, John Liptak.

Lawmakers insisted the money would be spent as voters generally intended when they approved the taxes in 2013. For example, the measure sends $40 million to a school construction fund.

Proposition BB also gives money to some new recipients, including the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America. In the case of the youth clubs, the money is actually going to the Colorado State Fair, which expects to receive $300,000 for renovations.

The Colorado Department of Education will get $2 million for a new “school bullying prevention and education cash fund.”

An additional $200,000 goes to the Department of Law to train police. Roadside marijuana impairment could be the training topic, but the measure does not require the money to spend on anything pot-related.

Some $8 million doesn’t have a designated recipient. The measure’s main author, Democratic state Sen. Pat Steadman, said the $8 million will go to a Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, which can be used for numerous educational and anti-drug efforts.

It was the fourth time Colorado has approved either legalizing marijuana or taxing it. The state approved medical marijuana in 2000. It voted to legalize the drug for all adults in 2012. And it has now voted twice now in favor of taxing the drug, both by overwhelming margins.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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