Colorado lawmakers make plans for marijuana profits

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DENVER — The federal government has reluctantly agreed to let Colorado be the first state to collect taxes from the legal sale of recreational marijuana, but it also has made clear it doesn’t agree with the move and may try to stop it, if it isn’t tightly controlled.

Instead of keeping a low profile with the money, however, some Colorado lawmakers are trying the bold move of using millions of dollars they’ve collected so far from pot sales to seek matching funds from the federal government to keep kids off drugs.

The plan calls for transferring $3.5 million from the state’s marijuana cash fund to its general fund and then sending the same amount to a state department that would apply for a federal match.

Democratic state Sen. Pat Steadman, the measure’s sponsor, joked that the bookkeeping move “is what I’m calling money laundering.”

Supporters say the transfer shouldn’t raise any concerns since federal authorities already collect marijuana dollars from the state’s medical pot industry and have established guidelines for recreational sales that include keeping the drug away from minors and off federal lands.

Moving the money from one fund to another, proponents say, simply acknowledges and avoids potential conflict.

Colorado just needs to do “a little two-step” to calm federal nerves, Steadman said, explaining the plan to fellow budget writers. “We wouldn’t want the tainted money to draw a federal match, now, would we?” he added, sarcastically.

Skeptics are rolling their eyes. “Colorado is now becoming basically a cartel, a drug cartel,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, a Republican on the budget-writing committee, who nonetheless voted in favor.

“I don’t know what they’re trying to do,” Lambert said. Maybe “avoid federal scrutiny? I don’t think you’re going to hide it from the federal government.”

The match request would seek funds from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services “for behavioral health community programs for school-based prevention” of child drug use.