Legalize it. And they will analyze it.
“They” being the Colorado Department of Revenue, and “it” being marijuana, of course. Beginning in 2014, recreational sales of marijuana were finally legal in the (Mile) High State.
Overall, legalization has worked out pretty well. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, and everyone is happy (well, except for neighboring states grumbling about drug trafficking). Here are five charts showing how the program has fared. And yes, these charts look way cooler under a blacklight.
Recreational weed was a big hit
From January to December, cultivation of recreational plants exploded, from around 25,000 registered plants to over 200,000. Over the same time period, the number of recreational weed storefronts grew from 156 to 306. Overall, this added up to $313 million dollars in sales. Combined with medicinal sales, marijuana was a $700 million dollar industry.
Medicinal sales only coughed a little
Perhaps surprisingly, medicinal weed didn’t suffer too badly with this unleashed competition. Except for January, there were an average of 300,000 to 320,000 plants every month. (The January dip can be accounted for either by vendors getting used to the tracking systems, or a one-time allowance to let people sell medicinal plants to recreational users until recreational stocks filled in.) And the total number of dispensaries actually grew, from 493 to 505.
The highs could even out
Retail sales are clearly catching up to medicinal sales. But there’s still a huge gap in the volume of bud sold in each sector. Medicinal dispensaries sold nearly three times the amount of bud: 109,600 pounds, compared to the nearly 37,000 pounds sold to recreational buyers.
But will recreational sales will eclipse prescription-grade point of sales? Probably not. Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, says “Price pressures are always going to be a siginificant factor.” Medical marijuana is cheaper because it isn’t taxed nearly as heavily as recreational weed. At one Denver dispensary that sells both medicinal and recreational buds, an 1/8th of Pre-89 Bubba Kush costs $37. A baggie of the same stuff from the recreational half of the store is over $8 more, at $45. And when getting a medicinal “red card” only costs $15, the math becomes pretty clear. Also in play, says West, is that “people have established relationships with their medical dispensaries.” Overall, medicinal sales account for 74 percent of all the weed sold legally in the state.
If those numbers are really going to even out, it’s probably going to take some restructuring of the tax code, to make recreational reefer more competitive with the prescription-grade pot. And that’s not out of the question. The combined 2014 tax revenue for all pot was $63 million dollars. Medicinal sales counted for less than a third of that.
Eat your weed
It turns out, people might not want to smoke to get high. At least this seems to be the case for recreational buyers. A number of things could be at play here: Maybe people don’t want to smell like smoke, or aren’t interested in coughing like a alley full of 14-year-olds. Or it could just be that people like candy. For entry-level stoners, buying something that looks like a gummy bear or chocolate bar is a lot less of a psychological barrier than choosing between jars of bud with names like Raskal’s White Super Chunk and Fort Collins Cough.
For entry-level stoners, edibles also offer a more consistent high. That’s because the state tests edibles (and also Mary Jane in non-edible forms, such as skin lotions and lip balms). For over 4,000 individual tests, pass rate was over 98 percent for potency (which ensured that an edible contained no more than 100mg of THC per serving).
There’s still a lot of data that needs to come. For example, there’s no centralized state record of the types of weed strains being sold, their popularity, and price. And then there’s the fact that in many of the state’s local jurisdictions—228 out of 321—medical and recreational marijuana sales are still illegal. But perhaps the most exciting prospect is measuring Colorado’s data against forthcoming (we assume) reports from Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. Until then, stay irie.