High on cannabis tax revenues

Legal marijuana tax revenues have been breaking records in Colorado in the past few months, nearly doubling monthly numbers from last year and on pace to exceed previous projections. Over the first seven months of this year, the state raised nearly $73.5-million from the sale of marijuana, putting it on track to collect more than $125-million for the year.

Many in the marijuana industry attribute the sales boom to a tipping point in social acceptance. “I attribute it to … more and more people … [being] comfortable with the legalisation of marijuana,” said Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “They don’t see it as something that’s bad for them.”

Tim Cullen, chief executive of the Colorado Harvest Company, said: “People who’d never considered pot before are now popping their heads in [to our shops].”

Support for marijuana legalisation has grown in Colorado since voters approved Amendment 64 by a 10-point margin in November 2012. A poll from Quinnipiac University in February found that 58% of Coloradans support keeping cannabis legal, compared with just 38% who oppose the idea.

Early sales may have initially been dampened by the relative scarcity of licensed dispensaries selling recreational marijuana. When retail sales began in January 2014, the only stores that were permitted to offer recreational cannabis were those with existing medical marijuana licences.

As the process has opened up, though, there are now hundreds of dispensaries across the state. This growth in the number of marijuana stores has forced dispensaries to up their game in order to attract customers. Cullen said today’s customer is generally more sophisticated, looking for specific strains of cannabis and a more professionalised atmosphere.

Unlike the young stoner stereotype, Cullen said, “our average customer is a business professional, and the vast majority are middle-aged folks with disposable income”. Indeed, to shop in a 2015 dispensary is not unlike perusing a fine wine shop, with “budtenders” selecting particular varieties depending on an individual’s preferences and customers can expect to hear plenty of hoity-toity language about a strain’s “aromatic notes”.

Both Henson and Cullen said they expected cannabis sales to continue to increase, but they pointed to various issues that are holding back potential growth, including lack of access to credit cards and bank loans, as well as the inability to take certain federal small business deductions.

“Our industry is very heavily regulated,” Henson argued. “It prohibits us from growing at a rate that we could be.” And, unlike liquor companies, which can openly advertise on billboards and television, marijuana sellers are forbidden to do so by law.

But sales will continue to rise in spite of regulatory hurdles if the herb’s advocates are right that marijuana is becoming increasingly socially acceptable. “You can’t show up to a dinner party with a few joints yet, like you would [with] a bottle of wine,” Cullen said. “But we’re not far from it.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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