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State sees nearly $1 billion in 2015 marijuana sales



Recreational sales generated $113 million in revenue for the state in 2015. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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  • Recreational sales generated $113 million in revenue for the state in 2015.

Yes, 'billion' — with a B.

$996,184,788. That's the magic number for 2015, representing the value of all the cannabis — both medical and recreational — that was purchased in Colorado in year two of retail sales, according to new data from the state Department of Revenue.

"I think it's ethical to round that up to a billion," marijuana attorney Christian Sederberg tells The Cannabist.

For those who love to geek out on weed math, here's how it all breaks down:

On the recreational side — approximately $588 million in total — pot sales generated more than $113 million in revenue for the state in 2015: $109.1 million from taxes, and $4.7 million in license and application fees.

On the medical side — representing $408 million in sales — more than $21 million in revenue was generated. The state made $11.4 million in taxes, and $9.8 million from license and application fees.

Remember that Colorado sets aside the first $40 million raised from the excise tax on wholesale transfers of recreational marijuana for public school construction. The rest of the revenue will go toward prevention of youth drug use, addiction treatment, research, and public-education campaigns.

"Just six years ago, Colorado received zero dollars in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana in the state," Mason Tvert, of the Marijuana Policy Project, comments in a triumphant press release. Other states claim millions of dollars in marijuana sales, he adds, but "Colorado is one of the few where those sales are being conducted by licensed, taxpaying businesses."


One of the main — and perhaps most reasonable — arguments against legalization of marijuana is that more stoned drivers on the road threatens public safety (except for that one friend everyone has who supposedly drives better high.) Whether weed impairs motor skills as alcohol does may in fact be a valid question, but not one policymakers are currently entertaining.

What they are pondering is how to enforce drug-impaired driving laws when there's not really a Breathalyzer equivalent that can accurately test for THC levels. (THC lingers in users' systems, you might get pulled over, test positive for THC thanks to a bong hit you took weeks ago, and get slapped with a DUI conviction.)

2015 was the second year the Colorado State Highway Patrol tracked the number of marijuana-specific DUI charges. Of the 4,546 people issued citations for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, 665 had marijuana in their system when they were arrested.

The State Patrol is test-driving five different THC-detecting devices. Every field office in the state has at least one such device, according to Maj. Steve Garcia, with the Patrol's training branch. When troopers pull over drivers on suspicion of driving while stoned, they ask whether the driver would like to participate in the program.

"Sometimes people are glad to participate, and sometimes they want nothing to do with us," Garcia tells The Cannabist.

The State Patrol is somewhat cagey about giving too many specifics, according to The Cannabist. Information about the devices, the companies that manufacture them, how effective they are, how much they cost, which troopers are using them, etc., is all still under wraps.

The ideal device would be able to reliably detect five nanograms of THC — the legal limit on marijuana presence, as determined by the Legislature — in a driver's saliva. To find the ideal technology, 125 select state troopers test a suspect's saliva using one of the five devices, but only after an arrest has been made and blood has been tested. The saliva results are, however, discoverable in court.

Science is cool. Exposure to unnecessary risk is not. So what should you do if you get pulled over and asked to be a guinea pig for the state?

Prominent Denver DUI attorney Jay Tiftickjian puts it to The Cannabist bluntly: "If anything is voluntary, and if it's not something that could be in their favor, then why would they expose themselves to that? If anybody asked me if they should, I would obviously tell them not to."

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