Colorado has allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes for almost a decade-and-a-half, but the state only legalized the sale of cannabis for recreational purposes in January 2014. With a relatively well-established industry geared up for the production of medical weed and less stringent guidelines for obtaining the bud, it was thought that Colorado could see market cannibalization as some medical users began to use drugs bought for recreational purposes — but after a full year of sales, the state's data suggests otherwise. Instead of splitting the existing market into segments, Colorado's new law actually expanded the overall market for legal marijuana.
Colorado sold more than $700 million worth of cannabis in 2014
In a lengthy report, the Colorado Department of Revenue details how the introduction of recreational marijuana has strengthened the overall market. In an earlier 12-month period between July 2012 and July 2013, before recreational marijuana was legalized, sales of medical weed only brought in $329 million. In 2014, the sales of legal cannabis marijuana in Colorado were worth more than $700 million — and only 36 percent of that figure was attributed to recreational pot. The data shows that the amount of medical marijuana cultivated has stayed relatively level, rather than dropping, under the new laws. At the same time, recreational use has soared: more than 20 tons of cannabis were sold on the commercial market last year.
It's not clear whether the recreational market has strengthened the medical sector because there's more cannabis being grown, if the industry is better developed and able to get its products to medical dispensaries, or people are simply happier to get medical weed if their friends can huff on a doobie whenever they like, but the facts have implications for other states. Some are currently considering whether to allow recreational reefers, while others — like Washington — are trying to work how to balance the medical and commercial wings of their legalized drug trades to keep both sides suitably relaxed.