This was an interesting week in weed news. As always, there is a lot going on with the rapidly growing cannabis industry. This week, Colorado took the spotlight for two reasons worth noting. One is objectively positive, while the other is seemingly threatening. They almost seem to pull at one another in nature, but the broader implication may have long reaching effects as the industry ramps up around the country.
Colorado surpassed the $500 million mark in total tax collections, upping the value to public health and education grant programs across the state while the Justice Department held closed-door meetings on black market marijuana issues that still exist in Colorado.
Colorado Passes Tax Revenue Milestone
The marijuana industry in Colorado has grown enormously in under four years, creating a norm where the news of cannabis sales top $100 million – at the minimum – every month. Since the recreational marijuana program went online in January of 2014, over $3.6 billion in combined sales revenues from medical and recreational markets has been removed from the illegal market. It has also helped hundreds of thousands of people in their medical maladies and cannabis woes and is creating thousands of jobs in the process. In addition to these burgeoning sales figures, a portion of tax revenues collected on the sale of marijuana, recreationally, in particular, is dedicated to public education, health, and welfare grant programs and special funds across Colorado.
Per Amendment 64, the constitutional amendment passed by voters legalizing marijuana possession, use, and regulated sales, $40 million in excise taxes collected per year is to be dispersed in the state’s public education system.
The amount of taxes collected by Colorado since the recreational program began surpassed a half billion, as reported by the Cannabist, in May of 2017. The benchmark is tantamount to a weed news message aimed at lawmakers and political groups who may want to roll back into a federal crackdown. The message: the marijuana industry in Colorado has helped the economy. It has created jobs. It has funded adoption services, health clinics, drug abuse programs, youth mentoring programs, and a number of school construction grants. Marijuana, as it were, has a home here.
The Feds Came to CO to Check in on the Black Market
In an April 2017 press release, Attorney General Jeff Sessions created a task force designed to review a number of topics, including immigration, violent crime, drug trafficking, among others. Initial recommendations from the task force were due on the 27th of July, 2017. The task force has thus far been out of view from the public in conducting field visits regarding marijuana. I suspect public excitement about the nascent cannabis industry has something to do with it.
The weed news agency, The Cannabist, reports agents from the Justice Department, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Domestic Policy Council, and the State Department visited Denver Wednesday, July 19th. This was a result of the letter Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking Mr. Sessions to review the policies, regulations, efforts to end the black market, and public education and awareness campaigns. After the meeting, the agents scuttled down to Colorado’s second largest and most militarily friendly city, Colorado Springs.
Colorado Spring and many of the surrounding communities do not permit recreational marijuana sales to occur. In these dry counties, medical marijuana is the only option if you want the full dispensary experience. Residents age 21 and over can still legally use and possess marijuana and grow up to six plants. With a lack of easy access to recreational, users have opted to grow their own.
The potential black or gray market for marijuana is, perceivably, bigger in the communities without recreational sales because cannabis is a somewhat rare and precious commodity. Also, the community – home to at least three military bases, not including NORAD- has a close connection with the Department of Defense and US military, producing a potential strain on Colorado Springs should they allow recreational marijuana.
The meeting was exclusive. It was hush-hush. Behind closed doors, Federal Agents from Attorney General Sessions task force met with Colorado Springs Mayor, among a few others in law and public service, have to offer regarding the black and gray markets. The meetings were not made public until they were over, and much of the discussion remains a mystery.
While the visit by the Feds can be viewed as a first-hand look at the cannabis industry in Colorado, taking them from the regulation and standards to the still evolving efforts to end black market marijuana sales, the July 27th deadline for initial recommendations places the process of reviewing Colorado’s marijuana efforts with little over a week till they are due. Is a week enough time to evaluate the strength of Colorado’s efforts to function within the criteria of the Obama-era Cole memo?
Weed news often reflects the odds states and the federal government stand on marijuana. This week Colorado’s weed industry was studied by the feds, seeking negative impacts and, potentially, sizing up the strength of Colorado’s regulation and enforcement efforts all while hundreds of millions of dollars enter state tax coffers, pumping much-needed support to public health and education causes.