The number of licensed recreational marijuana establishments in the state has nearly doubled over the past three years, leaping from 833 in December 2014 to 1,520 in December 2017. A just-released report by the Marijuana Enforcement Division also found that this boom in the lucrative recreational sector has been accompanied by a slowing in the medical marijuana industry.
Though total medical licenses increased modestly over the same period (1,416 to 1,531), 2017’s figures on new business licenses suggest that the overall cannabis industry is increasingly shifting focus to the recreational side of things.
Of the 376 new business licenses issued in 2017, 77 percent were within the recreational sector — or “adult use” segment, as the Marijuana Enforcement Division recently labeled it, perhaps in an attempt to emphasize that marijuana is not for minors. The numbers continue a trend: In 2016, retail business licenses increased by 22 percent, while medical licenses grew by only 7 percent.
The division also reported a rise in “the percentage of non-qualified sales checks,” to insure that businesses comply with age limits and turning back minors. In 2016, businesses passed this check at a rate of 94 percent. In 2017, that rose to 95.1 percent. In its release of the 2017 numbers, MED director Jim Burack noted that though “we’re pleased that the percentage of licensees passing underage compliance checks increased from 2016, that number still isn’t good enough.”
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While MMJ licenses are still growing, certain segments are dropping. Medical sales of edibles sank by 14 percent in 2017, while their rate of recreational purchase rose by 29 percent. Recreational sales of concentrates powerfully outpaced their medical counterparts, with 477 percent more units sold.
Denver is the indisputable epicenter of the state's cannabis industry. In pounds of usable marijuana per county, for instance, Denver accounts for 590,790 of the state total of 999,022. The same can be seen in harvested plant figures, with 1,552,598 of the state’s 2,500,592 plants falling within the boundaries of Denver County.
Pueblo County comes in second — though not a close second — with 125,970 pounds of usable marijuana in 2017. According to the report, Pueblo County (described as “known to have many outdoor cultivations”) experienced a 154 percent growth in cultivated plants between January and August 2017.
And all of this growth is happening while the majority of local jurisdictions, including huge swaths of the state, still ban marijuana sales.