How Tax Revenue from Legalized Marijuana Can Help Fund After-School: Lessons from Denver

Guest blog post by Maxine Quintana, Director of Out-of-School-Time Initiatives for Denver’s Office of Children’s Affairs and Co-founder of the Denver Afterschool Alliance

When you think about the legalization of marijuana, positive impacts on youth don’t necessarily come to mind. Its ever-growing popularity as a regulated, accessible product for adults has raised concern among families about how to navigate this changing landscape with their children.

Here in Denver, however, the benefits of legalization are evident. Like many other cities, Denver had limited funding dedicated to supporting after-school and summer programs. Now, with the creation of a special sales tax on recreational marijuana and an administration dedicated to education, the city benefits from a new revenue stream to support youth in the after-school hours.

So How Did We Get Here?

In January 2014, Colorado became the first state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults. In addition to a statewide tax, Denver voters approved a special sales tax of 3.5 percent to be used to cover the costs associated with licensing, regulation, enforcement, public health programs and education.

Sometimes Being in the Right Place at the Right Time, Armed with Data, is the Key

Later that year, in a monthly meeting led by Denver’s new Office of Marijuana Policy, I stumbled upon a chance to talk about the positive impacts of investing in after-school and summer programs. It’s no secret that youth who participate in high-quality after-school and summer programs outpace their peers in academic growth, have better school attendance, and have better social and emotional skills. Additionally, we know that youth trust and feel supported by adults in after-school programs, which makes these structured and safe environments ideal places for students to learn about the risks associated with marijuana use.

Being in the right place at the right time enabled us to secure $750,000 in funding solely dedicated to after-school and summer programs for youth K-12. But having specific data to show that marijuana tax revenue could and should be used to support youth services enabled us to double our annual funding allocation. Now, $1.5 million is dispersed through a competitive grant process, supporting nearly 20,000 youth every year through diverse after-school programs. Funds are also used to support Denver’s after-school intermediary, the Denver Afterschool Alliance, which works to increase the quality of programs through data-driven processes.

Supporting Youth to Make Positive Decisions in a Post-Legalized Landscape

Because of Denver’s deep connections with its after-school community, we learned from providers that they needed support to help youth who are growing up in this unfamiliar territory.

Responding to the need for a modern approach to marijuana awareness and education, the Denver Afterschool Alliance and the YESS Institute developed Healthy Lifestyles, a 10-hour curriculum for emerging adolescents (5th through 9th grade). Rooted in positive youth development practices, trusted adults lead youth through a series of hands-on activities that provides balanced information (the good and the bad) and helps youth build the skills they need to make healthy decisions when it comes to marijuana.

Healthy Lifestyles curriculum, developed by Denver Afterschool Alliance and the YESS Institute

Going through this curriculum allows for deeper discussion around the facts. In a state where marijuana is legal, topics such as the differences between state and federal law or the differences between medical and recreational use provide critical knowledge as our students get older and their exposure to marijuana increases.

Denver is now in the process of making this curriculum available to other communities.

Advice for Other Communities

As more states legalize marijuana, local marijuana tax may also be on the ballot. Therefore, it is more important than ever for after-school intermediaries to use the collective voice of the field to advocate for funding. How can they do this?

  1. Make sure your municipal leaders understand what after-school provides for youth and families so that they are ready to direct tax revenue to those services.

For more on Denver’s experience securing funding through the marijuana tax, check out Every Hour Counts’ webinar, Funding Afterschool: How Tax Revenue from Legalized Marijuana Can Help.

Maxine Quintana is the Director of Out-of-School-Time Initiatives for Denver’s Office of Children’s Affairs and co-founder of the Denver Afterschool Alliance. With over 29 years of experience in the public sector, Maxine’s leadership has strengthened the City’s relationships with pivotal stakeholders, leveraged resources to increase funding for out-of-school time programs, and emphasized youth development and evaluations as key factors to quality. For more information about Denver’s afterschool efforts, email

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