Three years, billions of dollars, and thousands of new jobs into Colorado’s legal marijuana experiment, we’re still nowhere near the economic ceiling of retail cannabis.
New monthly revenue figures indicate the state is on track to exceed last year’s massive sales totals for medical and recreational weed. Retail stores sold more than $125 million in product statewide in April, The Cannabist calculates based on state revenue numbers.
Through the first four months of 2017, the state has collected over $76 million in taxes and fees on almost half a billion dollars in sales.
The figures project out to a wild increase over the previous year’s sales and revenue numbers. Raw-dollar sales totals are up about 27 percent despite falling prices, according to The Cannabist’s metrics.
State revenue collections from taxes and licensing fees are almost 50 percent above where they stood at the same point a year earlier. Colorado ended up netting about $199 million in public revenue from cannabis that year.
April was the 11th straight month where Colorado businesses sold more than $100 million worth of pot — a particularly impressive streak given that retail prices have continued to fall since legalization first began.
Colorado’s own industry won’t keep lapping itself like this perpetually, of course. At some point — when enough other states have legalized, and when Coloradans have fully abandoned the black and “gray” markets for weed in favor of the fully sanctioned marketplace — the growth rates will soften.
But the 2017 trendlines aren’t just about Colorado’s first-in-the-door status. Tourism helps account for some of the growth, but it would be a mistake to read Colorado’s continued green boom as driven by out-of-staters eager to light up safely.
The real story of the 2017 growth, Marijuana Policy Group research associate Clinton Saloga told ThinkProgress, is that legalization is still moving pot activity out of back alleys and into the light.
“The continued rise in sales is due more to people leaving the black market and starting to shop in the regulated market, as opposed to a huge surge in total use,” said Saloga.
“It’s hard to say with a straight face that a lot of people are coming to Colorado just to smoke pot. Colorado has a million attractions,” Saloga said, “and if you look back at the trends, Colorado and the Denver area were increasing across all [tourism and economic] measures before legalization.”
Opponents of softer marijuana laws have often argued that decriminalization or legalization will increase usage. That’s not what MPG’s numbers show in Colorado, Saloga said. Instead, the group is seeing evidence to bear out the long-standing legalization argument that people who want to use pot will be happy to move under the umbrella of the law.
When masses of smokers, brownie aficionados, and chronic pain sufferers shift their dollars from illicit sources to official ones, they aren’t just providing a “peace dividend” to public spending for schools and other services. They’re depriving the organized drug networks and cartels of a major revenue stream.
The ongoing shift from black markets to legal ones still comes with a sour footnote. Many of those Americans who operated in the black market before they had any other option have found themselves shut out of the ongoing green rush, both in Colorado and elsewhere, as leery legislators work to ban anyone with a criminal record from being employed in the legal cannabis trade.