Colorado marijuana sales were brisk in December 2015, bringing the annual total close to $1 billion. Pictured: Budtender Heather Howell pours marijuana into a grinder at Peak Marijuana Dispensary in Denver on October 26, 2015. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)

Colorado marijuana sales skyrocket to more than $996 million in 2015

Licensed and regulated marijuana stores in Colorado sold $996,184,788 worth of recreational and medical cannabis in 2015, according to new data from the state Department of Revenue.

“I think it’s ethical to round that up to a billion,” cannabis industry attorney Christian Sederberg said Tuesday upon first hearing the 2015 totals.

Colorado recreational marijuana sales first started on Jan. 1, 2014.

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Colorado also collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015 — more than $35 million of which is earmarked for school construction projects.

“These are amazing numbers,” said attorney Steve Fox, one of the principal drafters of Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64, “especially on the tax revenue side.”

Colorado released marijuana tax data for December 2015 on Tuesday, showing a major uptick in month-over-month sales. Recreational pot sales jumped more than 21 percent from November to December, landing at $62.2 million — a monthly record in the state’s legal era. Medical sales jumped more than 32 percent in the same period, totaling $39.1 million.

The data on Colorado marijuana sales and taxes ended months of speculation surrounding the 2015 totals, which some believed would top $1 billion. Even though sales didn’t reach that lofty mark, legalization advocates are still content with the 2015 totals.

“It’s remarkable that less than seven years ago, all of that money was being spent in the underground market,” said Mason Tvert, the Marijuana Policy Project’s communications director. “Clearly there’s a large demand for marijuana, and we’re now seeing that demand being met by legitimate businesses that are answering to authorities instead of criminals who answer to nobody.”

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Colorado’s 2015 marijuana tax and sales totals tell a story of implementation and growth. While the state’s pot shops sold more than $699 million of cannabis in 2014, they moved more than $996 million in 2015 — a year when more pot shops opened, more municipalities started allowing these businesses and more customers found their way into the regulated market. Year-over-year totals for taxes and license fees grew too, from $76 million in 2014 to $135 million in 2015.

The school-funding 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers jumped from $13.3 million in 2014 to more than $35 million in 2015, according to the state.

“I’m really proud of our state and proud of our legislators and local officials, who have helped us transition away from an underground market so quickly,” said Sederberg, “so that our state can see the benefits of tax revenues, regulated sales, jobs and economic development.”

There are three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax; a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax; and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. For December, Colorado collected $11.3 million in recreational taxes and fees and almost $2 million in medical taxes and fees.

Sales stats for Colorado weedA month-by-month look comparing sales of recreational and medical marijuana
2015 Recreational total
$587,834,2192015 Medical total
2015: $996,184,788
2014 Recreational total
$313,226,3532014 Medical total
2014: $699,198,805
Source: Colorado Dept. of Revenue; graphic by Kevin Hamm, The Denver Post