Voting is over, and the results are in. Read on to find out how cannabis initiatives fared in this year’s Colorado elections.
Colorado voters rejected a statewide ballot measure that would have increased the sales tax on recreational marijuana. Proposition 119 would have increased recreational marijuana sales tax by 5 percent to fund private after-school and tutoring programs. The initiative failed by 54.41 percent to 45.59 percent.
Peter Marcus, a spokesman for Boulder-based cannabis company Terrapin, said Proposition 119 was a “misguided policy.”
“Despite being significantly outspent by proponents, Colorado voters still soundly rejected using cannabis as a piggy bank for out-of-state special interest projects. Coloradans understand that lawmakers struck an appropriate balance when they planned for cannabis taxes. Disrupting that system would only set successful regulation back. We can’t balance the state budget and education on the backs of cannabis consumers; we need long-term solutions that address structural deficiencies,” Marcus said after Proposition 119’s defeat.
In Denver, another marijuana sales tax increase was on the ballot. Initiative 300 would have increased the recreational cannabis sales tax by 1.5 percent to fund pandemic research at the University of Colorado Denver City Center.
“Denver voters recognized that this measure — funded by an out-of-town billionaire — taxes people’s pain relief to pay for a random, pandemic preparation program that has no accountability, no oversight, no specific solutions, no connection to the marijuana industry and no relationship to core city services. We are hopeful that the city’s business community will oppose any future efforts to increase taxes on the Denver cannabis industry just as they would for any other industry in the city,” Chuck Smith of the cannabis business organization Colorado Leads told Westword.
An out-of-state special interest group funded the initiative, and CU Denver was not involved in getting the measure on the ballot. The vote was no/against the initiative by 60.35 percent to 39.65 percent.
Golden, Westminster, and Brighton
By a slim 58.68 percent to 49.60 percent margin, voters in Golden decided to lift the moratorium on recreational marijuana dispensaries in the city. Cannabis cultivation, extraction, and manufacturing are still a no-no in city limits. Still, marijuana sales will finally be a reality in Golden after the city council drafts and implements rules.
However, it doesn’t look like adult-use marijuana dispensaries will be coming to Westminster anytime soon. Despite voting “yes” on allowing retail marijuana in the city by 53 percent, voters said “no” to a separate tax measure tied to the initiative.
Brighton was a definite “no” on repealing the ban on recreational marijuana sales. Voters rejected the measure by 53 percent.
Lakewood’s sales tax on recreational marijuana will remain at 19.6 percent after voters rejected a measure to increase the tax rate by an additional 5 percent. If the initiative had passed, the City of Lakewood would have been able to increase the tax on adult-use marijuana by up to 10 percent without further voter approval.
Mead, Lamar, and Wellington
It turns out that 3 wasn’t a magic number in Mead, where voters rejected a ban on medical and recreational marijuana sales for the third time since 2013. 61 percent of voters rejected the measure.
There was better cannabis election news in Lamar, where voters approved two marijuana-related measures. 54 percent of voters approved Ballot Measure 2B, legalizing recreational marijuana sales. 55 percent of voters approved Ballot Measure 2A for a 5 percent local tax on adult-use cannabis sales.
In Wellington, the vote on Initiative 2B is still too close to call. As in, a 3-vote difference too close to call. The initiative would allow medical and recreational sales in Wellington. With a total of 3,341 votes counted so far, 1,672 voters said “yes,” while 1,669 voters said “no” to the measure.
However, it’s not so close when it comes to Initiative 300, the vote on whether to implement a 3.5 percent sales tax on adult-use marijuana purchases. The initiative looks like it will pass, with 231 “yes” votes in the lead.
Marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but there’s a slew of marijuana-related initiatives on the ballot this year.
Statewide, Colorado voters will decide whether to increase the sales tax on recreational marijuana to fund after-school and tutoring programs for low-income and underserved youth.
Proposition 119, also known as the State Learning and Academic Progress Initiative (Leap), would give families earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a yearly stipend of $1,500 for after-school programs. Supporters of the initiative say the money would help close income-related learning gaps, which have been particularly exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic.
If the initiative is approved, it will raise marijuana taxes from 15 percent to 20 percent. Local governments add their own marijuana sales and industry taxes, so the tax on recreational marijuana would go from 26.4 percent to 31.4 percent in Denver.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, initially supported the initiative. However, they withdrew their support and adopted a neutral stance over oversight issues and a lack of information about how the program would be implemented. In particular, they noted that the program may not be as accessible for rural students and that it funnels money toward private, for-profit programs while doing nothing to fund public schools.
State marijuana proponents oppose the ballot measure, arguing that increasing an already hefty tax on recreational marijuana could push people to the black market, as well as detract from social equity initiatives.
In Denver, voters will decide whether to increase the recreational marijuana sales tax by 1.5 percent to fund pandemic research. Initiative 300 would raise around $7 million annually to fund the University of Colorado Denver CityCenter for research.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock opposes the initiative. On Facebook, he wrote, “While we continue to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19, adding a cost burden to just Denver voters seems unfair. Let’s rely on our national research institutions to do this work and share the responsibility more broadly than just Denver taxpayers.”
The initiative was sponsored by a Delaware-registered advocacy group, Guarding Against Pandemics. The University of Colorado was not involved in the initiative, and they don’t have any plan on how to use the funds.
Golden, Westminster, and Brighton
Three Colorado suburbs may finally have the chance to open recreational marijuana dispensaries thanks to initiatives on the ballot in Golden, Westminster, and Brighton.
After recreational cannabis was legalized in the state, the city council in Golden placed a moratorium on adult-use marijuana businesses in the city. If voters approve the measure, recreational dispensaries could open their doors. Marijuana cultivation, extraction, or manufacturing facilities would still be off the table.
Similarly, Westminster banned marijuana sales in 2013. However, ballot measures presented by the city council would all adult-use marijuana dispensaries and create a new local sales tax.
Brighton City Council banned marijuana sales after it was legalized in 2012, but this year voters in the city will vote on whether to allow recreational marijuana dispensaries as well as create a 4 percent local sales tax.
This year it’s all about taxes as Lakewood voters weigh in on a special marijuana sales tax that would help fund the city. If approved, local taxes on recreational marijuana would be set at 5 percent, with the City of Lakewood retaining the right to increase the tax up to 10 percent without further voter approval. Currently, Lakewood’s overall sales tax for recreational marijuana is 19.6 percent. The sales tax increase would raise around $2.9 million per year for Lakewood.
Mead, Lamar, and Wellington
Three rural Colorado towns will also vote this November on whether to allow recreational cannabis sales.
In Wellington, Initiative 2B would allow medical and recreational marijuana sales, and Issue 300 would implement a 3.5 sales tax on recreational marijuana purchases.
A voter-backed initiative in Mead could end the prohibition of marijuana sales in the town. A similar measure failed in 2019.
Lamar has two separate ballot initiatives that would end the ban on medical and recreational marijuana sales. Ballot Question 2B would allow marijuana dispensaries, cultivation, extraction, and manufacturing, while Ballot Issue 2A would create a 5 percent local tax on recreational marijuana sales. The city would have the right to raise adult-use marijuana taxes up to 15 percent without further voter approval.
According to a federal study, states that have legalized adult-use marijuana have not seen an increase in either youth marijuana use or availability.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) analyzed ten years of data from students in grades 9-12 who reported marijuana use in the previous 30 days. They found that between 2009 and 2019, youth marijuana use has remained essentially unchanged.
“The overall percentage of students who reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days in 2019 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2009…. There was no measurable difference between 2009 and 2019 in the percentage of students who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property.”
The findings are consistent with prior data concerning youth marijuana use.
Despite the claim by cannabis opponents that marijuana use among teens would increase with legalization, the data tells a different story. In 2009, before the first recreational dispensaries opened, 21 percent of high school students reported cannabis use within the previous 30 days. In 2019, with recreational cannabis legal in 17 states, 22 percent of students reported recently using marijuana.
The percentage of high school students who use marijuana has remained consistent both before and after statewide cannabis legalization.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found similar results.
“Youth marijuana use has not significantly changed since legalization, but the way youth are using marijuana is changing. In 2019, 20.6% of youth said they use marijuana compared to 19.4% in 2017. More youth are now vaping marijuana — 10.6% in 2019 compared to 5.1% in 2015. Dabbing rose from 4.3% in 2015 to 20.4% in 2019,” according to a press release.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that teen marijuana use decreased after legalization. Researchers analyzed data from 1.4 million high school students between 1993 and 2017 and found an 8 percent decrease in teen use after states legalized recreational marijuana.
“Consistent with the results of previous researchers, there was no evidence that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages marijuana use among youth. Moreover, the estimates reported…showed that marijuana use among youth may actually decline after legalization for recreational purposes.”
The New Mexico Legislature ended their 60-day legislative session Saturday without hearing a bill to legalize marijuana. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced that she would call a special session on the issue before the end of March.
“We’re going to have a special session in a week or so. We’re going to get cannabis because I am not going to wait another year,” the Governor said. “We’re going to win it, and it’s going to have the social justice aspects that we know have to be in the package.”
HB 12 passed the state House of Representatives in February, and the Senate was scheduled to hear the legislation on their last full day in session. However, as the legislative session ended on Saturday, it was clear that the Senate didn’t have time to hear the bill.
In a joint statement issued by the bill’s sponsors, Reps. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque) and Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe) supported the Governor’s announcement of a special session.
“We need to legalize adult-use cannabis tonight or in a special session. It’s now up to the Senate to have a vote. House Bill 12 puts forward New Mexico’s best opportunity to establish a multi-million-dollar industry with a framework that prioritizes social justice and equal opportunity for our communities. The Governor has made a commitment to sign a bill that represents our shared principles, and we welcome any avenue to do so. New Mexico is ready.”
If the Senate passes HB 12, it will allow the sale of recreational cannabis to adults 21 and older starting in April 2022.
“I believe legalization will be one of the largest job-creation programs in state history, driving entrepreneurial opportunities statewide for decades to come,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to get the job done right.”
If the Senate passes HB 12 during a special session, it will head back to the House for final changes before going to the Governor for her signature.
It has been a slow start for medical marijuana in Missouri. In 2018, voters approved Amendment 2, allowing doctors to prescribe medical cannabis for qualifying medical conditions.
Since then, not a whole lot has happened. 372 Missouri-based medical marijuana businesses have received licenses from the state, but only 43 have received approval to operate as of December 31 of last year. Twenty-two approvals have gone to retail medical marijuana dispensaries, while 13 approvals have been granted to cannabis cultivation centers. More than 700 potential marijuana businesses that didn’t receive licenses have active appeals.
In a bit of good news for medical marijuana patients in the state, edible marijuana products went on sale for the first time in Missouri during the first week of 2021. While production is expected to be slow until more cultivation centers and retail dispensaries are licensed, it’s still a step forward for medical cannabis in Missouri.
Another first for Missouri is the Republican state lawmaker who wants to legalize recreational marijuana.
“We spend more time and more law enforcement resources going after marijuana smokers than all the other drugs combined,” said Rep. Shamed Dogan (R). “Ten percent of the arrest in the state of Missouri right now are from marijuana possession.”
Dogan hopes legalization will bring more revenue to the state and eliminate the black market.
“I think alcohol prohibition taught us that trying to prohibit something this way, the way we’ve gone about marijuana prohibition, it backfires,” Dogan said.
Dogan plans to introduce a constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 30, during the 2021 legislative session. If lawmakers approve the amendment, residents could vote on legal recreational marijuana as early as 2022.
Dogan’s legislation doesn’t directly address racial inequity, but he does support clearing previous marijuana convictions.
“And it automatically lets out of prison anybody that is still serving a prison term for marijuana-only offenses and then expunges from your record if you have a non-violent marijuana offense,” Dogan said. “If you are currently incarcerated [for more than] a marijuana offense, so if you have a marijuana offense, but you also committed a robbery, you don’t get out.
It was a historic night for marijuana legalization in the U.S. four states voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and two states legalized medical marijuana.
Arizonans overwhelmingly voted to pass Proposition 207, legalizing adult-use marijuana. Adults 21 years and older can possess and consume up to one ounce of marijuana. Adults can grow six cannabis plants at home or no more than 12 plants in a house with more than one adult.
Arizona’s Department of Health Services will begin accepting applications for recreational dispensaries in January. It will begin issuing licenses within 60 days–so expect the first recreational sales to kick off in March.
Arizonans with a prior marijuana conviction can petition to have the record expunged as of July 12, 2021. Finally, a 16% excise tax will be added to recreational marijuana sales to fund public programs.
The Garden State will be cultivating a new crop thanks to voters who approved Question 1 on the ballot, legalizing recreational cannabis. Adults 21 and older will be able to purchase and possess legal cannabis, subject to rules and regulations that will be overseen by the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which already oversees New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Recreational marijuana sales will be subject to a 6.625% sales tax.
In 2019, legislation that would have legalized adult-use cannabis in New Jersey was pulled from a vote in the state legislature after failing to secure enough support from lawmakers.
Montana had not one but two ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana, both of which were approved by voters.
Initiative 190 legalized the sale and possession of up to an ounce of cannabis and the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants and four cannabis seedlings at home. Recreational marijuana sales will be subject to a 20% tax.
Constitutional Initiative 118 amended the state constitution to allow the Legislature to set the age for adults permitted to possess and consume marijuana to 21 years and older.
New Approach Montana, the group who backed both ballot measures, estimates that legal adult-use marijuana sales will generate $48 million in tax revenue for the state by 2025.
“Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state,” said Pepper Petersen, campaign spokesman for the group.
South Dakota is the first state where voters simultaneously approved legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana.
Voters passed Measure 26 legalizing medical marijuana for people with qualifying conditions with 69% of the vote.
Amendment A passed with the approval of 52% of voters, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and allowing the cultivation of up to three marijuana plants. The South Dakota Department of Revenue will issue licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities, and retailers. Sales tax on recreational sales will be 15%.
Marijuana possession will remain illegal in South Dakota until July 1, 2021.
Mississippians have said ‘yes’ to medical marijuana by approving Ballot Initiative 65.
The Mississippi Department of Health is required to hammer out the rules and regulations for a medical marijuana program by July 1, 2021. Mississippians will be able to apply for a medical marijuana card for 22 qualifying conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Each medical marijuana patient will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day period. Home cultivation of marijuana is prohibited.
$192,175,937 worth of marijuana products were sold in May, according to the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. That’s about 11 percent higher than the previous sales record of $173.2 million that was set in August 2019.
Colorado cannabis sales were up 29% from April, and up 32% as compared to May 2019.
May medical marijuana sales amounted to $42,989,322, and recreational cannabis sales amounted to $149,186,615. Altogether, that amounts to more than $779 million in cannabis sold so far in 2020, equaling more than $167 million in state tax revenue.
So why were sales up so much during May? Roy Bingham, co-founder and executive chairman of BDS Analytics, said that people are spending more time at home, which may mean that they’re simply consuming more cannabis.
“Everyone has perhaps become more used to consuming a little more,” Bingham said.
Plus, Coloradoans are buying more cannabis when they visit a dispensary, stocking up rather than making more frequent trips—a trend that started when Gov. Polis issued the stay-at-home order in March.
“It’s beginning to look like cannabis is anti-recession, or at least COVID-recession resistant,” Bingham said, adding Colorado has experienced “spectacular growth” this year.
State projections released in May predicted that marijuana tax revenue would decrease this year because of less tourism, more unemployment, and loss of wages from COVID-19. That hasn’t been the case so far in 2020, and sales numbers could increase during August, traditionally the biggest marijuana sales month of the year.
Colorado isn’t the only legal marijuana state that’s seen a jump in sales. Oregon cannabis sales are up nearly 60 percent from May 2019, surpassing $100 million for the first time since the legal sales began in 2015.
In Washington, sales are up nearly three times the rate in 2019, and up 8 percent compared to 2018.
Cannabis sales during coronavirus shutdowns haven’t been the same in every state, with newer cannabis markets seeming to fair better than established markets that depend on tourism.
Despite a statewide stay-at-home order issued on March 23, Washington state saw record-breaking cannabis sales in April. Recreational marijuana sales increased 20% compared to April 2019, generating $106 million. Adult-use cannabis sales in Washington during March amounted to $99 million.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, Washington is a good test state to see if cannabis is “recession-proof” because it has a relatively mature market that generates a higher portion of sales from locals.
States like Colorado generate a higher amount of cannabis sales from tourists, so even with the leveling off of sales in the state in recent years, Colorado should expect to see a dip in cannabis revenue.
“Estimates prepared for the Department of Revenue suggest that tourists accounted for 7 to 9 percent of marijuana consumption in Colorado between 2014 and 2017,” according to a state budgeting report.
Adult-use cannabis sales in Colorado during April 2020 generated $91 million, a 16% decrease as compared to the same time in 2019
While California saw a modest gain in cannabis sales in April, monthly sales growth was less than before the pandemic. In March, Californians bought $276 million in recreational cannabis, an increase of 53% compared to March 2019. In April, sales equaled $248 million, an increase of only 17%.
With travel all but grounded during the pandemic, Nevada’s cannabis businesses have been hit hard by the lack of tourism. Adult-use cannabis sales fell 26% in the state, earning $38 million in sales in April, down from $54 million in March. According to Will Adler, Director of the Sierra Cannabis Coalition, 80% of recreational and medical marijuana sales in Nevada are generated from tourists.
Illinois’ adult-use cannabis market launched in January, with a record-setting $39.2 million in sales. April’s adult-use marijuana sales didn’t top January’s numbers, but they were still higher than average. In April, Illinois sold nearly $37.3 million in recreational cannabis, $2.6 million more than was sold in March.
In Oklahoma, residents bought a record amount of medical marijuana, increasing tax collections by more than 25%. The Oklahoma Tax Commission received $9.8 million in state taxes in April. By comparison, the state generated $7.8 million in medical marijuana tax revenue in March. According to The Oklahoman, medical marijuana dispensaries sold $61.4 million worth of medical cannabis in April or nearly $217 per licensed patient.
Bud Scott, executive director of the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association, credits people staying home with the increase in medical marijuana sales.
“With the stay-home order in place, and medical marijuana dispensaries being categorized as essential health services, Oklahoma patients were afforded the ability to take their medicine on a more regular basis and sample a broader range of available medicines,” Scott said.
Cannabis users looking for relief from stress and anxiety could account for increases in marijuana sales that don’t rely on tourism.
“I’ve probably medicated more these past few months. You’ve got people staying home and getting stimulus checks, and what are they spending it on? Things that help keep them calm and collected,” Keith Wiley, owner of Native Brothers Dispensary, told The Oklahoman.
After a slow start in 2019, the cannabis market in Canada is taking off, in large part thanks to marijuana edibles. Canada legalized adult-use marijuana in October 2018, but it wasn’t until a year later that marijuana edibles entered the marketplace.
Canadians are cannabis curious
Data from Mintel, a Canadian market intelligence agency, shows that the Canadian cannabis market has a large number of potential users. Six in 10 (59%) of Canadians report that they are currently using and/or interested in using cannabis.
27% of Canadians used cannabis within the first six months of legalization.
Cannabis edibles entice new consumers to the marijuana marketplace
Marijuana edibles are of huge interest to Canadian cannabis consumers and non-consumers alike.
“Edibles and drinkables can be a great introductory way for new users to familiarize themselves with cannabis and better understand the cannabis experience, potentially leading to using other forms of the product,” said Scott Stewart, Senior Research Analyst at Mintel.
32% of non-cannabis users said that they are ‘open to trying it.’ That number jumps when it comes to marijuana edibles. Among potential cannabis users, 66% of non-users said they are interested in edible and drinkable cannabis.
When it comes to age demographics, potential cannabis users showed similar levels of interest in marijuana edibles, with 47% of 20-34-year-olds, 49% of 30-50-year-olds, and 48% of those aged 55+.
“The key to future growth for many consumer industries will be to convert more of the consumers who are open to but not current users of cannabis; their hesitance to try cannabis was a contributor to the relatively low sales in 2019, but the legalization of edibles and drinkables in October 2019 will play a major role in 2020’s success,” said Stewart.
Canadians look to marijuana for health and wellness benefits
According to Mintel, Canadians are more interested in the health and wellness benefits of cannabis over its recreational uses.
- Nearly half (46%) of cannabis consumers said that they use it to have fun, but an even higher percentage said that they use cannabis as a wellness product.
- More than half (62%) of cannabis consumers said that they use it to relax and relieve stress and anxiety (54%).
- Additionally, 42% of cannabis consumers said that they use marijuana to improve sleep, and 39% use it to improve their mood.
- 42% of non-cannabis users said that they would consider using cannabis to relieve pain, while 25% said that they would use it to improve sleep.
- The four biggest barriers for non-cannabis users were the smell (37%), smoke (36%), health concerns (28%), and lacking knowledge about how to consume cannabis (41%), all of which could potentially be overcome with time, education, and support of brands.
“New product innovation in the cannabis market has already begun to tear down some of the barriers related to wider cannabis consumption. In addition to edibles and drinkables that do not involve smell or smoke – two of the main complaints cannabis non-users have about the product – devices like vaporizers or vape pens, which create a vapor instead of smoke, serve to minimize these unwanted byproducts.
“Our research shows that many Canadians view cannabis as a very complex and intimidating product, and the lack of understanding leads many to avoid it entirely. Brands can navigate this by using online platforms and in-store employees to help educate consumers about cannabis. Strict laws around marketing cannabis mean that brands have to be very careful about their approach, but using factual statements to help educate and familiarize potential consumers with cannabis is a good way of establishing a trusted position in the market,” said Stewart.
Colorado may have regulated marijuana like alcohol, but since marijuana was legalized, there’s been a double standard when it comes to cannabis and booze. State law prohibits employers from firing employees for “lawful off-duty activities,” like drinking alcohol. Employees who over-indulge during the Superbowl, for example, can go into work the next day and talk about their bender without losing their jobs. Not the case when it comes to marijuana.
House Bill 20-1098, introduced to the Colorado legislature by Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora), would explicitly include marijuana use as a “lawful off-duty activity.”
“I can’t believe we’ve had this much oversight and lack of protection for someone who’s using medical marijuana, or recreational, which is something that is legal in Colorado,” Melton told Westword. “Especially since we’re supposed to regulate marijuana just like alcohol. But [alcohol users] are not in the same type of jeopardy as someone who’s using marijuana. I feel like it’s kind of almost discriminatory to say someone can drink alcohol but not smoke here.”
At many companies in Colorado, an employer can fire an employee for testing positive for marijuana, even if they’re not high at work. After recreational marijuana hit retail stores in 2014, the issue came up in 2015, when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the Dish Network was within their rights to fire an employee who tested positive for pot. The employee, Brandon Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient, was fired for marijuana use off the job.
“We’ve revised the language a little, and it’s now about employee protection for lawful activity,” said Ashley Weber, the director of Colorado NORML. “We’re not really looking for any special treatment just for cannabis users…We offer these protections for alcohol, so we’re not asking for any special treatment.”
The bill would likely not apply to federal employees who work in the state, at least as long as marijuana remains illegal federally.
“Our hope with this bill is that Colorado will set an example in rewriting employee handbooks about how they’re going to treat the firing of their employees, and what is grounds for being able to be fired,” Weber said. “We can’t go back and undo what has already been done, but we can move forward in how we’re creating this language.”
The House Business Affairs and Labor Committee will have their first hearing on the bill on February 5.