Colorado was the first state in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis.  Since legalization went into force in 2014, the state has been seen as a leader in the cannabis field.

Contrary to what many feared, five+ years of legal cannabis has not led to massive increases in consumption, illnesses, fatalities or crime in Colordao.  

Consumption among adults is up about 14%, from 13.6% to 15.5%, continuing a trend seen before legalization. That’s still lower than Massachusetts, where 20% of adults have consumed cannabis in the past 30 days.  Teen use, which had been in decline in Colorado before legalization, is flat at about 9%.

There have been some negatives: cannabis impaired driving citations have increased by 3% over the five years, fatalities where cannabis was present in the bloodstream increased by 155% and hospitalizations related to cannabis increased from 1,440 to 3,517. On other hand, driving fatalities with THC-positive drivers decreased by 5% and cannabis-related court filings declined by 55%.  African-Americans are still being arrested for cannabis-related activities at twice the rate of whites.

With a more open policy towards dispensary licensing, purchasing cannabis in Colorado is a lot more convenient than in the Bay State—there are currently more than 500 recreational dispensaries in Colorado, and because of that convenience, legal sales and tax revenues are much higher. Black market sales have declined considerably, and now account for only 20% of the total.

With the black market less of a factor, and prices for dispensary cannabis still relatively high in Colorado, there should be a growing movement among Colorado resident towards growing organic cannabis themselves.  No data is available yet on changes in home grow cannabis. 

Prior to legalization by referendum, state law makers had largely opposed its use.  Now a majority are embracing it, seeing it as a way to create jobs, increase tax revenue and attract both tourists and residents to the state.  Restrictions on home delivery, public cannabis lounges and investment in cannabusinesses have been lifted, and will go into effect in 2020-21.

With almost six years of legal sales, attitudes towards cannabis have changed, and many entrepreneurs have taken advantage of legalization to create new cannabis businesses, or promote their businesses as cannabis-friendly.

Cannabis Laws Colorado vs. Massachusetts 

Laws governing home cultivation and personal possession in Colorado and Massachusetts are very similar: 

  CO MA 
In-Home cannabis cultivation  6 plants 6-12 plants* 
In-Home cannabis possession  All product of up to 6 plants 10 oz. 
Personal cannabis possession outside the home  1 oz. 1 oz. 
Personal hash possession outside the home  16 g. 5 g. 

*Each 21 year-old in a household, up to two may have 6 plants 

Like California, Colorado is less generous towards home grow cultivation—allowing residents to grow only six plants, regardless of the number of adults in the household; laws governing home cultivation in Massachusetts allow up to twelve plants.

Recent Legal Changes

With the passage of two new laws (House bills 1234 and 1230), signed by the Governor this past May, Colorado will permit home delivery of cannabis and public consumption in cannabis lounges. Approval for cannabis lounges will depend on whether individual municipalities opt in or out of the program.  Delivery of medical cannabis is expected to begin in 2020, and recreational delivery in 2021.

Colorado, like Massachusetts, has tried to restrict large cannabis companies from entering the market.  House Bill 1090, also signed into law this past May, will  allow publicly traded and private equity firms to invest in Colorado marijuana businesses. 

Tax Revenue

Tax revenue from cannabis has totaled more than $1billion since legalization began in 2014 and is currently at $266 million per year. Sales and tax revenue are forecast to grow 14% per year. To put that in perspective, Massachusetts estimated $63 million in tax revenue for the first half of this year, but has received only $5.9 million.  Slow dispensary licensing is the problem—Colorado opened 181 stores in the first three months, Massachusetts opened just nine.

Trends in Consumption

According to the Chicago Tribune, adult consumption of cannabis is up slightly in Colorado, with 15.5% of adults claiming to have consumed in the past 30 days in 2017 vs. 13.6% in 2014.  This continues a trend seen before legalization. 

Teen use, which had been in decline before legalization, was relatively unchanged at approximately 9%.

New Trend Data estimates that 80% of Colorado’s adult use consumption is now through legal sources.

A study by European researchers claims that legalization helped Colorado attract an additional 3.2% of population.

Innovative Businesses  

Legalization has spawned a host of cannabis-related tech businesses, including software platforms that manage dispensaries, hire employees, analyze growing patterns and optimize marketing.

Being the first in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis has been good for businesses that serve the cannabis industry, as well. The Denver Post reports that Colorado leads the nation in ancillary cannabis businesses, with 41 of the top 150 businesses. 

Colorado companies devoted to edibles like Wana Brands and Incredibles have done so well they’ve expanded to other cannabis legal states. Smaller brands proliferate.  Trip Savvy reports “In Colorado, you can find fine truffles, high-end chocolates, suckers, gummies, drinks, candy and even cannabis-infused butters and oils if you want to try to bake your own loaded dessert. There are even CBD donuts, Rice Krispie treats, lemonade, muffins, coffee and something like peanut butter. Basically, if you can bake it, you can get baked by it.”

There are dozens of yoga centers offering ganja yoga classes ganja retreats and ganja romantic getaways. 

Yelp lists 28 different cannabis/CBD massage centers in the Denver area alone.

Wellness and life coaches are specializing in the use of cannabis.  The Holistic Cannabis Academy was founded in Colorado.

There are cannabis-friendly B&Bs, hotels and resorts.  There are on-line services that help you find dispensaries and cannabis-friendly hotels. There’s even a limo service that specializes in dispensary tours for cannabis tourists. Check out https://www.coloradopotguide.com/ and https://coloradocannabistours.com/

Sources  

Wikipedia: “Cannabis in Colorado” 

CNBC: “Colorado passes $1billion in marijuana state revenue” 

Chicago Tribune: “Recreational marijuana in Colorado: What the numbers say about health, safety and tax dollars.” 

New Trend Data: “Cannabis at Five: Colorado’s Maturing Market Demonstrates Impacts & Opportunities”

Yahoo Finance: “How legalized cannabis changed Colorado over five years”  

NY Times: “Reefer Madness or Pot Paradise? The Surprising Legacy of Where Legal Weed Began.” 

KUNC: “The State of Colorado’s Marijuana Industry, Five Years In” 

Marijuana Moments: “Legal Marijuana is a ‘Positive Amenity’ for New Colorado Residents, Study Says” 

Colorado Sun: “A new era dawns for marijuana in Colorado. But some believe relaxed rules go too far.” 

NORML: “State Laws” 

Built in Colorado: “Riding high: 7 Colorado cannatech companies to watch”

The Denver Post: “Colorado cannabis businesses that are exactly cannabis businesses are growing.” 

Yelp: “Best cannabis massage in Denver”