(Associated Press file)

Chart: Colorado marijuana sales hit $700 million for 2014

“There have been hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana sales taking place in Colorado for a long time, and finally they’re taking place in regulated businesses,” an advocate says.

If we’re rounding up, Colorado sold a cool $700 million of marijuana in 2014, a.k.a. the first full year of recreational pot sales in the modern world.

For those who like exact numbers, the state’s total sales tallies for medical and recreational cannabis added up to $699,198,805, according to Cannabist calculations based on new data from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Broken down, that’s $385.9 million for medical marijuana and $313.2 million for recreational cannabis.

“That’s an insane number, isn’t it?” said Caitlin Murphy, director of marketing at the Emerald Fields dispensary group, which will open its second recreational pot shop in Manitou Springs in mid-March. “We have very high hopes for the industry and where it’s going, and we know that the growth is going to be even bigger this year.”

Other industry leaders reveled in 2014’s final sales tally on Thursday when contacted by The Cannabist.

“I think it’s an amazing number,” said Meg Collins, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, “and it’s an amazing number when you put it into the context of what a success the industry and the state has had in regulating the safe sales of these products.”

Colorado state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said he’s “feeling very encouraged by what we’re seeing so far. Everyone keeps calling this ‘Colorado’s experiment with marijuana legalization,’ but so far everything seems to be working better than planned. … Right now we’re still rolling things out, but it just seems to be rolling out smoother than anyone expected.”

For legalization advocate Mason Tvert, that towering sales figure is a signal of a diminishing black market and the successful implementation of recreational regulations.

“There have been hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana sales taking place in Colorado for a long time, and finally they’re taking place in regulated businesses,” said Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Marijuana is a less harmful product than alcohol that countless adults choose to use, and they should be able to purchase it in a store like they would other legal products. Clearly a lot of them are choosing to do so.”

Steadman agrees with Tvert that Colorado will see larger tax and sales tallies in 2015 — but he’s also concerned about the state’s continued work to shut down various black and gray markets.

“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Steadman said. “There are still a lot of sales that are going on that aren’t in the regulated, legal market, and that’s part of the reason why the taxes weren’t as big as anticipated (in 2014). There is legislation being proposed this year talking about, ‘What can we do to provide a better regulatory environment for legal businesses to exist? What else can we do to try and stop the abuses going on around the fringe and to fully eradicate the illegal black market in our state?’

“There are still kinks to iron out.”

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In December, both medical and recreational sales saw a bump of around $4 million from the previous month. After holding strong in the $31 million-per-month range for the previous three months, recreational sales jumped in December to $35.1 million. Medical sales took a significant dive in November ($27.6 million), but they bounced back in December at $31.7 million.

December 2014 was recreational pot’s most successful month for sales (and taxes) to date — a statistic that makes sense, given the expanded number of shops that opened throughout the course of the year. And that’s why Tvert says that while the overall 2014 numbers are helpful and important, they’re not a direct indicator of legal marijuana’s future in Colorado.

“No one’s taking into account that only a fraction of these businesses were open during the first several months of the year,” Tvert said. “Look at the amount of tax revenue generated on adult-use marijuana: It goes from between $2-$3 million in January and February to between $3-$4 million from March to May to between $5-$6 million from July to the end of year. If you look at a full year at that ($5-$6 million) level, it’ll be even larger. That’s definitely noteworthy.”

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In January 2014, when only 30-40 recreational cannabis shops were open in Colorado, the monthly pot taxes and industry fees were $2.1 million and the sales amounted to $14.7 million. In December, when Colorado had more than 300 recreational pot shops open, those taxes and fees equaled $6.9 million, and sales had more than doubled, topping $35.1 million. Tvert’s point on these recreational pot numbers: 2015 should resemble December’s numbers more than it will January’s.

In fact, if we used those December statistics to roughly estimate what 2015’s tax and sales haul might look like, we come up with a fascinating hypothetical — Colorado would end up with $82.8 million in taxes/fees, and $421.2 million in sales from recreational pot this year — compared with the $56.2 million in taxes/fees and $313.2 million in sales for 2014.

Will 2015’s numbers be bigger or smaller than that very rough estimate? We’ll know more once the revenue department issues its first monthly report in early March.

Sales stats for Colorado weed
A month-by-month look comparing sales of recreational and medical marijuana

Recreational total
Medical total