Colorado Tourists Buy Recreational Marijuana


In some Colorado ski towns, tourists are buying 90 percent of the recreational marijuana, according to a recent state analysis that said visitors are giving tens of millions of dollars to the marijuana economy which ended up being a lot larger than originally predicted. The study, conducted by the Marijuana Policy Group and commissioned by Colorado marijuana regulators, said around nine percent of state residents use marijuana at least once per month and that prior estimates had greatly undercounted the amount of pot consumed by frequent users.

The study, which was released Wednesday, said 22 percent of consumers used around 70 percent of the marijuana sold in Colorado and defined someone as being a frequent user if they consumed a gram or more per day for at least 21 days out of the month. The study also mentioned that Colorado residents consume around 121.4 metric tons per year while tourists purchase about nine metric tons of recreational marijuana. However, earlier this year, a study conducted by state tax officials estimated the market at 92 metric tons, and another study that was released the previous year had estimated the market at only 64 metric tons.

One metric ton contains a million grams. According to the study, an average sized joint contains around half a gram. A very large amount of marijuana in the state of Colorado is being sold as either hash oil or pot-infused foods, both of which contain highly concentrated amounts of THC.

The study mentioned that the Colorado marijuana market is significantly larger than what was originally thought. The total visitor and resident demand is estimated to be around 130.3 metric tons this year. That number is substantially higher than what has been reported in prior estimates. During the current fiscal year, Colorado has acquired $34.8 million in marijuana fees and taxes.

According to the report, medical and recreational dispensaries will likely sell around 77 metric tons of marijuana this year while the rest will be sold on the gray or black markets. The study said that people grow only a small amount of pot for their own personal use. However, what remains undetermined is how the recreational and medical markets will develop over time. The taxes on recreational marijuana are significantly higher than that of its medical counterpart, and residents of Colorado are able to get their medical marijuana license from the state for only $15. The study mentioned that license holders have not switched to recreational marijuana due to the high taxes.

The study also said that the demand for marijuana by visitors from out-of-state represent a large portion of total retail requests. Many Colorado residents have a medical marijuana license, which allows them to purchase pot at a much lower tax rate and a larger number of locations across the state. Tourists, however, can only purchase marijuana from retail vendors exclusively. According to sales data from the Department of Revenue, for some counties in the state, 90 percent of all recreational marijuana sales come from tourists.

While the majority of the sales for recreational marijuana is bought in small ski towns, tourists visiting any part of Colorado are more likely to buy pot from retail shops than the residents are. The study revealed that as visitors are consuming the majority of the state’s recreational pot, residents are not forgoing their medical marijuana any time soon in order to avoid high taxes.

By Laura “Addi” Simmons

USA Today
Colorado Public Radio