The state Capitol and a packed Civic Center Park on an April 20 from years past. (Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Colorado report describes, in detail, first year of recreational marijuana

Nearly 5 million marijuana-infused edibles and almost 150,000 pounds of cannabis flower were purchased in legal Colorado stores and dispensaries in 2014, yet only 67 of Colorado’s 321 total jurisdictions allow the sale of medical and recreational pot, according to an encompassing new report the state released on Friday.

The Marijuana Enforcement Division’s first annual report is one of the most important documents to date in Colorado’s marijuana experiment because it’s the first to give complete, state-sanctioned statistics on what marijuana looked like in its first full year of recreational sales.

“The Marijuana Enforcement Division feels that it is imperative to remain transparent on such a highly publicized issue in Colorado,” Lewis Koski, director of the Marijuana Enforcement Division, said in a statement. “It is the goal of MED to ensure that information of this nature is made available so that the public can fully understand the scope and nature of this newly regulated industry.”

There’s lots to learn about “the scope and nature” of marijuana in Colorado. Some numbers that popped out:

Edibles were certainly one of 2014’s biggest stories, and for good reason, as 4,815,650 units were sold in the first year of recreational pot sales — 1,964,917 units on the medical side and 2,850,733 recreationally.

The numbers on marijuana flower sales in 2014 showed a still-robust medical market, which saw 109,578 pounds sold, and a growing recreational market, with 38,660 pounds sold.

It’s fascinating insight, the report’s authors say, knowing that recreational edibles dominate the infused product space — yet recreational cannabis flower only makes up roughly one-quarter of that area.

“The data reported into the system clearly illustrates a strong demand for edibles in general, but especially for retail marijuana edibles,” the report reads. “The edible trend suggests that retail marijuana products are a viable product for retail consumers.

“The retail marijuana product edible trend differs from the sales trend for flowering retail marijuana where the latter only comprised 26 percent of total flowering marijuana sold in pounds. Retail marijuana product edibles accounted for approximately 59 percent of total units of edibles sold in 2014.”

It’s also been somewhat elusive to peg down how many recreational shops and medical dispensaries are actually selling marijuana in Colorado, but the report addresses that, too. As of December 2014, the state had issued 833 recreational licenses, 322 of which were for pot stores otherwise referred to as “retail,” “adult-use” or “21-plus.” The state also issued 1,416 medical licenses, 505 of which were for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Legalization opponent Kevin Sabet on Friday noted that more than 70 percent of Colorado’s jurisdictions don’t allow marijuana sales of any kind. According to the state’s report: Of Colorado’s 321 total jurisdictions, 67 allow medical and recreational sales, 21 allow medical-only sales, five allow recreational-only sales and 228 prohibit all pot sales.

“It’s fascinating how the vast majority of places have banned retail and medical outlets outright,” said Sabet, co-founder of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) and director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida. “People have this impression that everyone in Colorado wants to legalize marijuana, but it comes back to what I’ve said before. Legalization in theory is different than legalization in practice. You might like the tax revenue, but when it comes down to having a store next door to your house, it’s less attractive.”

Legalization advocate Mason Tvert countered by saying the places that allow pot sales are among the most populated areas of the state.

“The population of the localities (not allowing pot sales) in question is far fewer than the places that allow these sales,” said Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “If you overlay the map showing the localities that allow marijuana sales over a Colorado map showing the most populated areas of the state, they match up almost perfectly.”

Added Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group trade organization: “Kevin Sabet is always going to be looking for something that makes this all seem like a disaster, to make it seem like voters didn’t want this. But the whole point of Amendment 64 was to allow cities and counties to make their own choice of whether they want licensed businesses or not. Grand Junction can’t tell Denver what to do, and Denver can’t tell Grand Junction what to do. Local control is a wonderful aspect of this program, and it’s something that should be celebrated. It’s very democratic.”

A new poll released on Feb. 24 found that 58 percent of respondents in Colorado said they support the pot-legalizing Amendment 64 while 38 percent said they oppose it.

Another area of the state’s report that saw a significant jump: Workers getting licensed to work inside the cannabis industry. There were 15,992 people licensed to work in the state’s marijuana industry in December 2014 — compared to 6,593 at the beginning of the year, an increase of nearly 143 percent.

The state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division said it will start releasing these statistics on a quarterly basis in 2015.