While former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)—currently a 2020 presidential candidate—has described his state's earnings from legal marijuana sales as a "drop in the bucket," current Gov. Jared Polis (D) is taking a different approach.
On Wednesday, his administration issued a report touting the fact that Colorado has so far brought in more than $1 billion in cannabis revenue.
“This industry is helping grow our economy by creating jobs and generating valuable revenue that is going towards preventing youth consumption, protecting public health and safety and investing in public school construction,” Polis said in a press release.
The state's licensed cannabis retailers have sold more than $6.56 billion worth of marijuana products since legal sales began in 2014, following voters' approval of a legalization ballot measure in 2012. That activity has generated more than $1.02 billion in taxes and fees for the state.
Beyond paying for the implementation and enforcement of regulations, the revenue goes toward youth drug prevention programs, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and school construction, among other services and programs.
“Amendment 64 has clearly fulfilled its promise of raising significant new revenue for school construction projects,” Brian Vicente, a lead co-author of the state's marijuana legalization measure and a founding partner of the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, said in a press release. “We were never under the illusion that legalization would be a fiscal panacea, but we knew it would have a substantial and positive impact. Funds are being used on everything from building schools to hiring school health professionals and paying for bullying prevention programs.”
And the state's legal cannabis program is only growing. Last month, Polis signed bills legalizing marijuana delivery services and social use areas, as well as legislation allowing publicly traded companies to hold cannabis business licenses.
“Today’s report continues to show that Colorado’s cannabis industry is thriving, but we can’t rest on our laurels," the governor said on Wednesday. "We can and we must do better in the face of increased national competition. We want Colorado to be the best state for investment, innovation and development for this growing economic sector.”
Legalization advocates argue that the fiscal benefits are only one reason to support the policy change.
“Generating tax revenue is not the only reason or even the best reason to regulate cannabis,” said Mason Tvert, who was also a co-author of the legalization ballot initiative and now serves as vice president of communications at VS Strategies, the law firm's public affairs consulting affiliate. “But when those revenues start adding up to more than $1 billion, as they have in Colorado, it’s a pretty attractive bonus. It’s crazy to think how much money states are flushing down the toilet by keeping marijuana in an illegal market.”
Last month, Illinois lawmakers sent a marijuana legalization bill to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who campaigned on ending cannabis prohibition and has pledged to sign the legislation into law.