Colorado has collected more than $500 million in tax revenue from the cannabis industry since recreational sales began in 2014, according to a report from VS Strategies based on information from the Colorado Department of Revenue.
The report shows that after combining medical and retail marijuana sales taxes, excise taxes and application and license fees, the State of Colorado has realized over $506 million since January 2014. A new government relations and strategic communications firm from the partners of Denver law firm Vicente Sederberg, VS Strategies broke down how the state's cannabis revenue is being used and even provided examples of it being put to work at the local level.
The data shows an industry that got off to a rapid start and might soon level off at steadier, consistent growth. The 2.9 percent adult-use (retail) sales tax revenue nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015, and it grew by almost 50 percent the next year. Current sales numbers for 2017 through May, which saw $127.7 million in total sales and $19.6 million in sales tax and licensing revenue, are on pace to continue raising the bar.
Cannabis sales revenue rose 28 percent overall from April 2016 to April 2017, according to dispensary sales data firm BDS Analytics, accounting for $1.4 billion in Colorado. Recreational sales shot up 45 percent in that time, accounting for $975 million in sales.
Highlights of the report include $117.9 million being used to fund Colorado school-construction projects since 2014, with an additional $5.7 million sent to the state's Public School Fund. Over $16 million has been distributed for substance-abuse prevention and treatment programs, and $10.4 million was used for mental and behavioral health services.
On the local level, according to the report, Pueblo County used $420,000 in cannabis tax revenue to provide college scholarships to 210 students, while cannabis tax revenue accounted for 20 percent of Edgewater's budget in 2016; the town just west of Denver has used that money to repair city infrastructure and begin construction of a new city complex. The Aurora City Council has set aside $1.5 million in cannabis tax revenue to aid the homeless, and recently used $900,000 of it to renovate an old Aurora Police Department building into a homeless resource center.
“Legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana for adult use has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for Colorado,” VS Strategies Vice President of Public Relations Mason Tvert said in a statement. “Marijuana tax money has been used to improve a wide range of programs and services. It is funding everything from school construction to substance-abuse treatment to fighting homelessness. While it might not fix every school or help every person who needs it, it is having a significant and positive impact on our community."
Tvert, along with Brian Vicente of VS Strategies, presented a ceremonial $500 million check from "The Cannabis Community" to Colorado House Representative Jonathan Singer earlier this week, to commemorate the revenue mark. “We hope lawmakers will continue to distribute these funds responsibly and not lose sight of what voters intended when they opted to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol,” Tvert said.
Still, at least one organization wasn't pleased with the report. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group opposed to cannabis legalization, issued a statement condemning the VS Strategies report. The data "is not newsworthy," said SAM president Kevin Sabet.
"Like the tobacco industry before it, the Colorado marijuana lobby is touting marijuana as the panacea for every contemporary challenge Colorado faces," Sabet continued. “Waving around an oversized novelty check makes pot lobbyists feel good, but it does not help the families and communities who have to deal with the costs of marijuana commercialization."