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Denver election 2021: Voters asked to tax recreational marijuana sales to fund pandemic research

Ordinance 300 on Denver’s Nov. 2 ballot asks voters to establish a pandemic research fund by bumping the city’s marijuana sales tax rate up to 11.8% from 10.3%, adding an extra 15 cents to every $10 spent in a recreational dispensary.

It has identified a local institution, the University of Colorado Denver’s CityCenter, to lead that potential research which would be focused on technologies that could protect people from contagious diseases and public policy changes that could boost preparedness and recovery in the event of a pandemic.

“The people of Denver want to be prepared the next time a pandemic strikes and this ballot initiative is the way to make that happen,” the Denver Pandemic Fund campaign said in a statement emailed to the Denver Post.

But opponents, including Mayor Michael Hancock, say it’s a misguided measure that would bring an unnecessary tax burden down on Denverites.

The measure was proposed by Guarding Against Pandemics, a nonprofit organization backed by cryptocurrency billionaire and Joe Biden donor Sam Bankman-Fried.

Campaign finance records show that the Guarding Against Pandemics has donated $250,000 to the Denver Pandemic Fund Campaign this year. The organization lists an address in Delaware.

While originating from out of state, the campaign noted it has been endorsed by the Colorado Nurses Association.

CU Denver, whose CityCenter arm is named in the ordinance as a recipient of the funding the tax increase would bring in, has not endorsed the measure.

“However, we are excited about the opportunities this presents, if the ordinance passes, to serve the world with research about how to respond to COVID-19 and other pandemics,” CU Denver spokesman Ryan Huff said in an email. “As a research university, we are well-suited to administer and conduct the types of research outlined.”

The campaign estimates Ordinance 300 would bring in $7 million a year starting in 2022, but the city’s voter guide indicated the number would likely be $10 million next year and more after that as marijuana sales continue to grow.

The Marijuana Industry Group, the state’s largest cannabis industry trade organization, opposes Ordinance 300 and Proposition 119, the state-level measure on the Nov. 2 ballot also seeking to increases sales taxes on marijuana.

“The cannabis industry is the highest taxed industry in the state,” Truman Bradley, the group’s executive director, said in an email. “Unfortunately, both Ordinance 300 and Proposition 119 target consumers, which hurts low and middle-income Coloradans.”