The seven marijuana dispensaries in Aspen sold more than $8.3 million worth of medical and recreational pot during 2015, according to statistics from the city’s Finance Department.
“That’s an incredible number,” said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn. “That’s impressive.”
The exact amount of $8,347,557 in marijuana sales in the city translated to $200,341 in sales tax funneling into city coffers during 2015, according to the statistics.
This is the first time the city has released the yearly marijuana sales number since commercial sales of recreational marijuana began in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014. The city previously only released the combined amount of marijuana and alcohol sales.
Previous requests for the information were denied because too few dispensaries were in operation in the city, and officials feared that releasing sales numbers could give away too much specific information about how much business each dispensary was conducting.
The monthly breakdown of 2015 marijuana and alcohol sales shows marijuana generally trailing alcohol, though not by much. Marijuana sales eclipsed alcohol sales in both March and April, according to the statistics.
Perhaps because of spring break, the $998,418 worth of marijuana sold in March was the city’s highest monthly total of the year, and was about $140,000 more than alcohol sales that month. April’s pot sales of $455,935 were about $13,000 more than that month’s alcohol sales.
The second highest monthly marijuana sales total occurred in December, when $969,133 worth of pot was sold, according to the city’s statistics. However, that month also registered the year’s highest alcohol sales total of $1,466,337.
The only other month marijuana sales topped the $900,000 mark was in July, when the city’s dispensaries sold $923,915 worth of pot, according to the statistics. July also registered the second-highest amount of alcohol sales, which came in at more than $1,146,974.
The alcohol sales do not include alcohol sold at bars and restaurants, according to city Finance Director Don Taylor. Alcohol sales at liquor stores were responsible for contributing more than $230,000 worth of sales tax to city coffers, according to the statistics.
Statewide, Colorado dispensaries sold $996 million worth of medical and recreational marijuana, according to The Denver Post. That’s almost $1 billion.
For that, the state received more than $135 million in tax revenue and fees, including $35 million earmarked for school construction projects, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
Statewide marijuana sales topped $100 million twice in 2015 — in August when they registered $100.6 million, and in December when they reached $101.3 million, according to Denver Post statistics based on Colorado Department of Revenue information.
Aspen marijuana sales in August were $796,382.
Statewide marijuana sales were just under $700 million in 2014, which yielded about $76 million in tax revenue and fees, according to The Denver Post.
Marijuana’s effect on Aspen
Linn said the addition of legal recreational marijuana to Aspen more than a year ago has not increased police officers’ workload. In fact, it has lessened the amount of work because officers don’t have to seize the drug when they find it on people and then deal with the corresponding paperwork such action used to necessitate, he said.
In addition, marijuana is far less of a societal ill than alcohol, Linn said.
“Marijuana doesn’t exactly whip people into a frenzy to act out or go to a bar and pick a fight,” he said. “There’s no question that a person who’s been smoking marijuana is a lot less likely to pose a threat than someone drunk on alcohol.”
Still, Linn said he constantly smells pot when he walks around town and would like to see users be more respectful when it comes to public use, which is illegal.
“It’s not really impacting our workload, but it is impacting life in town,” Linn said.
He said he attended a concert last summer in Snowmass Village with his children and others, and numerous people around them were smoking marijuana. When he asked them to stop because public smoking is illegal, he said they became angry and belligerent.
That said, he thinks the jury is still out on whether legalization will negatively affect life in Aspen.
“I think 10 years is a good time to look back and make that determination,” Linn said. “Now it’s working out fine.”
Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch said he’s been a supporter of recreational marijuana having an appropriate place in the city, “though I don’t like the stuff.” He said he hasn’t noticed a huge increase in public use or odors.
“I think we have a fairly happy balance now,” Frisch said. “It seems to be working.”
The $200,000 in marijuana sales tax revenue was not the deciding factor in the city’s decision to allow recreational marijuana sales, he said, though “it is money that wasn’t there before.” Some of that money could be well spent by investing it back into the community to pay for social services connected to substance abuse, he said.
“We are a party town,” Frisch said. “We have a moral responsibility” to provide those services to people in town who need it.
Linn said the Aspen Police Department is looking at adding a social worker-type position because, more often, officers are confronted with people in a substance-abuse or mental-health crisis.
“Rarely a day goes by that we don’t have something like that going on,” Linn said. “What is changing are societal expectations of how those things are addressed.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said he doesn’t see a problem with marijuana use among adults, though he worries about its affect on children. He also said he thinks some of the marijuana tax revenue should be redirected to local programs that address substance abuse, mental-health issues and educational programs for children.
“This product is here to stay,” he said. “If people continue to have a fear about what it will do to the community, why not divert some income toward the problem?”
Tharyn Mulberry, Aspen High School principal, said the district’s message to kids about marijuana is “delay, delay, delay.”
“It doesn’t mix well with adolescence,” he said.
Marijuana is responsible for the highest number of suspensions at the high school this year, though that number is still less than eight students, Mulberry said. But, in a sign of the changing times, Mulberry said marijuana that is taken from students now is rarely in a baggie anymore, and is usually in one of the pill-type bottles dispensaries use.
“I haven’t even seen homemade pipes anymore,” he said. “So (legalization) has had an impact.”
Shelley Evans, who spearheads drug-prevention efforts in the Roaring Fork Valley in her capacity as executive director of Community Health Initiatives, said the $8.3 million in Aspen marijuana sales is “shocking … but doesn’t seem too surprising.”
“I don’t like it,” she said. “It’s not good news to me like it is to some.”
Evans focuses her drug prevention efforts mostly on children, and said that before legalization, 7 out of 10 kids seeking substance abuse treatment had primarily alcohol-related issues, with marijuana a secondary problem.
“Since medical marijuana began in 2009, 10 out of 10 kids that walk into the treatment center say they’re using marijuana, (and) alcohol is secondary,” Evans said. “They’re telling us they can’t stop using marijuana.”
Those kids report having trouble in school, trouble with health issues like respiratory problems and cognitive issues like memory lapses, she said.
“With marijuana, it seems to have a more long-term and far-reaching effect,” Evans said.
And while Evans admits that heavy use of alcohol over the long term causes far more serious health problems than long-term, heavy marijuana use, she thinks that will change in time.
“I don’t think (legalization has) been a good trade-off,” she said. “We aren’t even beginning to see the negative side of things.”
Garrett Patrick, owner of Stash dispensary in Aspen, said he doesn’t see any social ills caused by legal marijuana.
“I think it’s actively helping people out,” he said. “I see it as helping people. I think it’s a good thing.”
Once people are eventually able to go out to a venue and smoke marijuana socially, it will take away from the drinking culture, he said.
“Smoking events are totally different than alcohol events,” Patrick said.
As for the $8.3 million in sales in 2015, Patrick said he’s not surprised.
“It’s probably about what we figured,” he said.
He said he thinks marijuana sales will continue to grow, and hopes they surpass alcohol one day.