AURORA | The Aurora City Council on Monday increased the special sales tax for recreational marijuana products by 1%.
The estimated annual $1 million in revenue from the increase would allow the city to “backfill” programs that lost funding after Aurora voters ended the Photo Red Light program in 2018.
The city council was able to approve the tax increase without voter approval because Aurora’s original recreational marijuana laws approved by voters allows for a range of pot taxes.
The tax increase, sponsored by at-large Councilwoman Angela Lawson, divided the lawmakers, eventually ending in a 5-4 vote. Some against the measure have said recreational marijuana businesses should be treated like any other business in the city and that they should not be taxed disproportionately from other businesses.
Council members Lawson, Alison Coombs, Nicole Johnston, Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo voted “yes” on the increase, which brings the sales tax to 5%.
With the new revenue, city officials estimate that programs and services that once received Photo Red Light funds — like Aurora Mental Health Center, Gateway Domestic Violence Services and Mile High Behavioral Healthcare — would no longer require budget reductions and some budgets could even be increased.
Mayor Mike Coffman said he supported the increase in a Sentinel guest column last month, writing, “the $1 million in lost revenue has created a significant problem for the programs that the photo red light fines have been dedicated to support.”
The city sought input from several recreational marijuana businesses in Aurora. Nearly all were opposed to the increase, according to city staff.
Some business owners told city staff at a meeting last month they wouldn’t pass the sales tax increase onto consumers. Prices would likely stay the same and the businesses would make up for that 1% sales tax increase.
Starbuds owner Brian Ruden told the Amendment 64 Ad Hoc Committee he’s opposed to the increase.
“Is 1% going to tip the scales? No. But if I don’t voice concerns now… there is a point where the equilibrium can tip where you’re giving more legs to the black market,” he said, suggesting that there’s a point where legal, regulated marijuana in Colorado would no longer be the affordable choice for consumers.