It won’t be enough to fix every creaky desk, but hundreds of millions of dollars in cannabis and other taxes are helping rural communities turn the tide after decades of underfunding.
When cannabis legalization opponents discuss the “dangers” of ending marijuana prohibition, they almost always jump to the safety of local children. If we legalize weed, they say, our children will be getting edibles in their halloween candy bags and be shooting heroin by the age of 16. But while reefer madness still drives fear-mongering in states without legalization, if you ask parents and teachers in rural Colorado, they’ll sing a different tune – one about the brand new schools and population influx that the state’s legal weed taxes and employment rate have brought to town.
According to the Denver Post, that’s exactly what’s happening in Deer Trail, a rural suburb 60 miles outside of Denver. Thanks to money from Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today, or BEST, initiative, funded in part by the state’s cannabis excise tax, the town will open a brand new K-12 public school in the next two years.
Currently, the Deer Tick public school is sagging, leaking, and ill-equipped to prepare child for life in the 21st century. The school’s swimming pool was in such shambles that a structural engineer recommended the district cancel the sport for good, and they have.
“They were saying a new school wasn’t needed until they saw what we and the kids have to deal with everyday.” Deer Trail school superintendent Kevin Schott said. “And I think it was eye-opening for them.”
But while we often associate the rural pockets of this country with conservative politics and anti-cannabis rhetoric, thanks to the new school and a general influx of fresh cash, the folks in Deer Trail are sounding more like Snoop and less like Jeff Sessions.
“I don’t care where the money comes from, if we get a new school, I’m for it,” Hayley Whitehead, the Deer Trail school district’s administrative assistant said. “I see the invoices and see what we need for repairs, so I have a pretty good idea of the situation here.”
For some, the cannabis tax is seen as the same as a cigarette price hike or Las Vegas’ gambling revenue. And because the taxes are bundled with other state funds, there are no signs at any groundbreaking ceremony boasting “Built by Pot” to piss off neighbors.
“There are lots of so-called ‘sin taxes’ for uses and products that people don’t necessarily endorse,” Jay Hoskinson, regional program manager for capital construction for the Colorado Department of Education said. “But I think people also start looking at it as a possible new revenue source. And it kind of gets intermingled with other funding and becomes pretty much all part of the same package, and so far, we’ve not heard from any school districts who say, “No, we are not going to use that money.’”
With almost $200 million of the BEST program funding coming directly from cannabis taxes since recreational sales started in 2014, the scholastic funding program has created $1.2 billion in school restorations and construction since 2009.
Still, even with the money from legal weed, Colorado’s public schools are in serious need of help. One recent study estimated that schools in the Centennial State need upwards of $18 billion in construction in the coming year alone to get up to par.
But even if every student doesn’t get a complimentary iPad or the technology that America’s youth deserve, at least Deer Trail’s class of 2020 will be able to take a swim in their new pool.