Last year was a record year for cannabis sales in Colorado — the third record-breaking year in a row. The state’s dispensaries sold $1.3 billion worth of recreational and medical marijuana in 2016, the first time sales exceed the billion-dollar threshold, representing an increase of almost 30 percent from the year before.
Where to go from here, aside from onward and upward? Every market estimate pegs growth, growth and nothing but growth for the cannabis industry through the next decade. With $200 million in state sales taxes flowing to schools and other civic agencies in local taxes and marijuana sales so strong that one cannabis company’s made a totally legit bid for naming rights on the Denver Broncos’ home stadium, what can stop marijuana’s momentum?
That would be President Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, the nation’s newly minted attorney general. Sessions took the oath of office last Thursday, and within minutes, he and Trump were declaring a new war on drugs — yes, they really did do this.
So far, only the bad hombres working for drug cartels have been put on notice; Sessions has yet to share his plans for cannabis. For Colorado’s sake, hope he continues the Obama Administration’s hands-off approach. If he doesn’t, and instead commences a Rocky Mountain crackdown, the result could be a years-long recession, industry insiders and observers say.
Weed’s impact on Colorado’s economy has been total. Home prices in Denver surged following the state’s vote to legalize marijuana in 2012. That’s no accident: realtors and other observers say Denver’s red-hot real-estate market has marijuana to thank for a spike in prices.
Just under 5.4 million people live in Colorado, and less than a quarter of them smoke weed. This data, along with the slew of companies offering marijuana tours, suggests Colorado tourism has marijuana to thank for recent boom times for the hospitality industry.
More than 20,000 people work in Colorado’s marijuana industry, according to Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. She told Denver-based ABC-7 that those are single-earner jobs — jobs that pay mortgages, support families and accommodate spending habits that keep other nice things afloat, like Denver’s renown craft beer market.
“I absolutely believe that the dismantling of cannabis in Colorado would cause a recession,” Kelly told ABC-7.
Brian Ruden, owner of the Starbuds dispensary chain, told the station the same thing.
“There are thousands and thousands of jobs that rely on the marijuana industry indirectly,” Ruden said. “Electricians, plumbers, warehouse space – all things are impacted by the industry.”
There’s no doubt what Jeff Sessions wants. It was clear last year, when he publicly wished for a return to the Nancy Reagan era, when government-funded drug education programs told kids that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” It was clear during his Senate confirmation hearings, when he informed Congress that marijuana was illegal and it was his job to enforce the law — and in case that wasn’t obvious enough, he and the president spent most of last week lamenting how drugs are responsible for America’s decline.
This leaves only two questions: what would a Sessions-led crackdown on Colorado cannabis look like and is it going to happen? As of now, there are no answers, only speculation.
Ending the brief and wildly successful experiment of marijuana legalization would take an army of police and lawyers that the government simply does not have — not when Trump is simultaneously running immigration raids and trying to convince judges to re-impose travel bans.
In the end, Colorado’s cannabis industry may be too big for the Justice Department to assail, but that remains to be seen.
TELL US, would your job be affected by a federal cannabis crackdown?