During a roller coaster of a year, medical marijuana patient numbers increased slightly from the start of 2014 to December 31 — but marijuana revenue hit spectacular heights, with the combination of MMJ and recreational sales totaling just shy of $680 million.
But while more patients were toking by the end of the year, far fewer were signed up with private caregivers. In January 2014, 57 percent of all patients had signed up a medical marijuana dispensary or a private caregiver to grow for them. By the end of December, that number had dropped to 43 percent.??
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment doesn't break down the caregiver stats to show how many people opt for a private grower, as opposed to a dispensary. Back in November, Westword requested a snapshot of data when the department's report showed that 44 percent of patients were using a caregiver or dispensary. We learned that fewer than 4 percent were working with a private grower. The remaining 40 percent had signed up with a medical marijuana dispensary. ??
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In total, there were 115,467 medical patients in Colorado at the end of 2014, up 4,437 patients from the count of 111,030 at the start of the year. While the number of active patients increased slightly, the number of total new registrations last year was more than 35,680 — meaning that as many as 31,245 old patients had dropped off the registry at some point during the year. ??
One segment of the patient population that saw a major increase in 2014: minors under the age of eighteen. At the start of 2014, there were 215 juvenile medical cannabis patients. By the end of December, that number had more than doubled, to 462. News stories about high-CBD oils helping sick children — particularly the August 2013 CNN special on Charlotte Figi, namesake of the proprietary high-CBD strain Charlotte's Web bred by the Realm of Caring in Boulder — prompted parents from all over the United States to drop everything and move to Colorado to get access to medical cannabis for their offspring.??
Adding up monthly medical marijuana sales-tax figures for 2014 show that retail medical cannabis stores sold $375,412,620 worth of cannabis and cannabis products in 2014, netting the state more than $10.88 million in sales tax. Recreational sales trailed slightly behind, with $ 304,211,034, for a combined total of 679,623,654. But taxes from recreational pot were much higher than medical, with more than $39.18 million sales taxes, plus an additional $13,341,000 in excise taxes and more than $3.7 million in licensing fees collected in 2014.
The discrepancy between tax dollars for medical pot and recreational pot has some lawmakers calling for the end of medical cannabis — or, at the very least, a major reduction in patient numbers. Legislation has been introduced by Senator Irene Aguilar (D-Denver) that would crack down on caregivers who are serving too many patients, at least according to the state. In addition to mandating that medical marijuana-recommending doctors provide more information on patients suffering from severe pain, the bill would also require primary caregivers to register with the state and prevent them from serving more than five patients. The bill's real goal seems clear: to get patients off the medical cannabis registry and over to the tax-money-generating recreational cannabis side.