Just one week into Colorado’s landmark experiment in legalisation, the state’s regulated recreational marijuana stores are believed to have sold more than $5m worth of cannabis products to about 100,000 buyers.
The number of approved recreational shops has increased from the 34 that opened on 1 January, to about 50. At least one such store has sold out of weed, while others have imposed maximum purchase amounts beneath the 1oz mandated by the state.
Though industry insiders say the $5m (£3m) estimate is a “ back-of-the-envelope calculation”, that figure would include at least $1m destined for Colorado’s tax coffers, to be spent on the state’s schools, roads and other public projects.
Aaron Smith, co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told The Independent: “That’s $5m that would have been in the hands of illegal drug dealers and black marketeers, which instead is going to small business owners, who will reinvest it in the community, creating jobs and tax revenue.”
Possession and use of recreational marijuana has been permitted in Colorado since late 2012, when the state’s voters passed constitutional amendment 64, legalising the drug. However, cannabis has not been legally available from retailers to non-medical consumers until now.
Michael Elliot, of the state’s Medical Marijuana Industry Group, said: “We knew there was going to be a lot of demand, but we didn’t know much. The amount of people who are interested has been staggering; they’re excited to be a part of history.”
The major hurdle facing the industry is the financial system: federally-regulated banks remain reluctant to accept marijuana businesses as clients, not least because the drug remains illegal at a national level. Mr Smith said: “We’re talking about millions of dollars circulating in Colorado outside the banking system, which is a recipe for disaster.”
On Monday, the Denver City Council issued a proclamation calling on the US Treasury to take action on the issue, arguing, “Forcing Colorado’s legal marijuana industry to operate on a cash-only footing creates heightened risks of crime – risks that marijuana businesses themselves will become targets of crime, risks that criminal elements will seek to become involved in the marijuana industry, and thereby risks that governments will be defrauded, employees will be victimised, and customers and nearby neighbourhoods will be put in danger.”
So far, the legal marijuana trade appears to have caused few problems for Colorado law enforcement. Police in Denver reportedly wrote no more than four marijuana-related citations in the first week of January.
Other local businesses have embraced legalisation, including Hapa Sushi, a Japanese restaurant chain based in Denver and Boulder, which has created a cannabis “pairing menu”.
A poll by CNN found that one third of Americans believed marijuana legalisation in Colorado was a good thing, while 29 per cent said it was a bad thing.