According to data released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there were 115,210 registered medical marijuana patients in Colorado at the end of May -- close to a record high. That has lawmakers concerned, not because it means there are a lot of sick people in Colorado, but due to the loss of tax revenue from retail cannabis.
The jump in patient numbers this year goes against predictions from state officials, who'd assumed that many medical marijuana patients would drop off the state registry once recreational marijuana sales began. Their reasoning was that medical patients would be able to avoid the extra costs and time involved with doctor's visits as well as registering with the state -- but that hasn't been the case. Why not? Many people point to the consistently higher prices for recreational cannabis -- and that's before a tax rate that can add another 20 percent.
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May saw nearly $32 million worth of medical cannabis and medical cannabis products sold in Colorado, netting about $927,000 in total tax for the state from the standard 2.9 percent state sales tax. In the same month, $22.14 million in recreational pot was sold, but with the combined 2.9 percent sales tax, 10 percent special sales tax and 15 percent excise tax, the state raked in a total of $3.78 million as a result of those sales.
Some lawmakers see the gulf between the two revenue streams as a problem.
Representative Dan Pabon, a Democrat from Denver, said last week that he was concerned with the impact medical marijuana is having on revenues from recreational cannabis, and he's now heading up a legislative committee examining both markets. Pabon hasn't given details of what the group will be studying, but he's hinted that he would like to change the medical marijuana program in such a way that it would increase revenue on the recreational side. Whether this means proposing lower taxes for recreational pot and enticing more customers over that way or raising taxes for medical pot and making it more burdensome to become a medical cannabis patient remains to be seen. The group meets again on Thursday, August 28. (For more information on the committee, visit the state legislative website.)
Despite a slight decline in medical cannabis patients from April to May -- 970 names -- the number of minors on the registry continued to grow. It's now up to 335, from 307. The rest of the data remained relatively unchanged. Most medical cannabis patients live in the Denver metro area, and 54 percent of those on the registry designate a medical cannabis facility or a private caregiver as their primary means of obtaining cannabis. Two-thirds of all registered patients are men, with an average age of 41. The average age of women on the registry is 44.