Colorado has been the trendsetter in legal recreational marijuana for more than two years, and as debates about the plant’s economic and social effects rage around the country, people frequently look to this state’s capital for data that supports their arguments.
But until recently, Denver hasn’t been able to provide much.
It wasn’t that Denver was purposefully ignoring the basics of the business booming all over town; it’s just incredibly difficult to track something so new, especially when that something was outlawed in the state back in 1929 and was only made legal again in 2012.
Things like separating marijuana-related crimes from other drug crimes and tallying industry tax revenues take time, and presenting that information in a readable format takes even longer.
But the City and County of Denver recently released a report that provides some of this information, gathered in one of the first comprehensive efforts to track legal marijuana’s effect on a major metropolitan community.
Commissioned by the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy — the city’s administrative unit for marijuana businesses — the report covers crime, revenue, sales and license data from 2014 into 2015. Here are some of the highlights:
There have been more reported marijuana-related crimes in the industry than in the black market. (A)
From January 2015 to November 2015, Denver averaged more than thirteen crimes a month within the industry in which marijuana was the target (mostly robbery situations), compared to fewer than seven a month related to the black market. In only one month — November 2015 — there were more marijuana-targeted crimes in the black market than in the legal, licensed industry. According to the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy, marijuana-targeted crimes accounted for only 0.4 percent of all Denver crime during that eleven-month span — which would indicate that legalizing marijuana has barely created a blip in the city’s crime stats. (This excludes violation of marijuana law, which covers crimes such as distribution and public consumption, and “sensitive” cases, which involve minors, homicides and sexual assaults.)
The revenues are only increasing, and the recreational side is moving ahead. (B, C)
From January 2014 to June 2015, gross sales of marijuana products in the City and County of Denver totaled more than $643 million, and that number is continuing to grow today. Combined overall sales from both medical and recreational pot businesses in Denver totaled less than $25 million in January 2014, when the first recreational sales were allowed, but by September 2015, that figure had grown to $39 million. The upward trend is strongly connected to the rise in recreational sales, which outsold the medical side eight out of nine months, with around $160 million in total sales from January to September 2015. Medical sales have been going up, too, though, and topped $20 million in the month of July.
Businesses owners have been taking note of the rise in recreational sales as they decide whether to serve medical patients, recreational customers or both. As of December 2015, only 69 of the 213 open marijuana dispensaries in Denver were medical-only, with the majority dual-use.
The city is putting more resources into industry regulation and public education. (D)
Denver’s budgeted marijuana expenses for education, enforcement, regulation and public health increased by $2.2 million annually from 2014 to 2016, with enforcement receiving a 70.2 percent jump in financing from 2015 to 2016. Marijuana regulation and education will also receive more money in 2016 as their budgets increase by 33.9 percent and 27.2 percent, respectively. The only sector that won’t receive more funding in 2016 is public health, which remains unchanged from its inaugural budget of $1.5 million. The City and County of Denver made $22.46 million in tax revenue from medical and recreational marijuana in 2014, and although 2015’s numbers haven’t yet been announced, that number is expected to have grown significantly.
Denver really is a mile higher than everywhere else.
A 2012 survey done by the Denver Office of Drug Strategy that compared Denver with the rest of Colorado and the U.S. showed that 15.5 percent of Coloradans had admitted to marijuana use within the previous thirty days, which was 5.2 percent higher than the national average. But 17.6 percent of Denverites admitted to using marijuana during that same time period. Their love of herb is reflected in the amount of pot businesses we have in Denver — and they aren’t all dispensaries.
As of December 2015, there were 451 distinct marijuana business locations in the City and County of Denver. Yet alcohol still dwarfs pot here: According to the Denver Business Licensing Center, there are 1,767 Denver businesses with liquor licenses.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.