Colorado cannabis businesses received a message of support last week from Governor Jared Polis, who called the state's marijuana industry "the best in the nation."
In a video recorded by the governor's office and shared with members of the National Cannabis Industry Association on March 15, Polis touted Colorado's move to legalize recreational marijuana and hemp in 2012 and said that the work wasn't over.
"Over the years, we've laid that foundation and continued honing the process to make sure our industry is the very best in the world," he said. "And we continue this work. Just because Colorado is first doesn't mean we're content to rest on our laurels. We need to continue pursuing new boundaries and working to ensure we're being competitive with every other market that's following in our footsteps."
Over twenty states, federal territories and Washington, D.C., have since followed Colorado's move to legalize recreational pot, but competition isn't the only problem that our marijuana industry is facing right now.
Colorado marijuana growers and retailers are stuck in a two-year recession, state Department of Revenue data shows, with wholesale flower prices sitting at record lows since last July. Marijuana sales are also on a steep decline, according to the DOR. From 2021 to 2022, dispensary sales dropped 21 percent, and 2023's numbers are even weaker.
Marijuana business owners and state economic forecasts suggest that marijuana purchasing in Colorado likely peaked around the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, when dispensaries recorded record sales numbers. Over the past year, though, marijuana businesses across the state have laid off employees or closed altogether, and bills have gone unpaid. Earlier this month, the state Marijuana Enforcement Division sent a memo to cannabis business owners reminding them to pay their vendor and service debts.
In the video, Polis repeated the need for hard work and innovation to remain a leading state in cannabis, but never mentioned the marijuana or hemp industry's financial struggles, both of which have been well documented, even by his own office. The day after the video was shared with the NCIA, the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting released a state economic report predicting a 19.5 percent drop in total marijuana tax revenue through the next fiscal year.
The governor also stressed that national legalization and banking access — a service that some marijuana businesses are blocked from because of federal prohibition — need to be addressed in order for commercial cannabis to truly succeed. According to Polis, his office has asked Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra for a timeline for the federal rescheduling of marijuana in light of President Joe Biden's pledge to reassess the country's marijuana laws last October.
"We all know that federal action must be taken to create a far more effective, successful landscape for the industry. I've been outspoken about my support for federal legalization in conversations with the White House, the FDA [and] members of Congress about the importance and the urgency of this," Polis said.
He also highlighted state banking initiatives for marijuana businesses in Colorado, social equity programs for more diverse business ownership, and the Colorado Department of Agriculture's work to license industrial hemp farmers.
"These are just a few examples of the way we've created thoughtful solutions to make Colorado's cannabis industry the best in the nation, but looking ahead, we know that there's a lot more work to do," he added.
According to Polis, part of that work includes a new multimillion-dollar program from the Colorado Energy Office that incentivizes environmentally friendly growing processes. Named the Cannabis Resource Optimization Program (CROP), it will provide commercial marijuana growers with free technical resources, renewable energy assessments and, down the road, financing for equipment and facility upgrades.
"This won't just reduce energy use within the industry and help us reach our state's renewable energy goals, it's going to save money for businesses like you," the governor told the NCIA crowd before closing out his message.
"The future of cannabis in Colorado is bright. I look forward to working alongside you to make sure that our system remains the very best ecosystem for innovation in the cannabis sector in the entire world," the governor concluded.
See the full video below: