TIME Drugs

Colorado Hits a New High for Pot Sales

Pot Prices Double as Colorado Retailers Roll Out Green Carpet
An employee pulls marijuana out of a large canister for a customer at the LoDo Wellness Center in downtown Denver, Jan. 9, 2014. Matthew Staver—Bloomberg/Getty Images

More than $114 million worth of the drug has been sold since January

Colorado marijuana dispensaries sold an estimated $24.7 million of recreational marijuana in June, according to tax figures released Friday by state Department of Revenue.

The figure makes June the most successful month for dispensaries on record since January, when marijuana became legal for recreational use in the state. Marijuana sales in the state have been surprisingly strong. A recent study of the market found that more than 10 tons are being sold every month, and the average price for consumers was for $220 per ounce.

In total, more than $114 million worth of the drug has been sold since January, based on Colorado tax figures.

Not everyone is joining in. President Barack Obama visited the state recently, but, when asked, passed on the opportunity to take a hit.

TIME Crime

Toddler Shot by 5-Year-Old Boy in Colorado

Boy who found the handgun learned to use it “from video games like Black Ops”

A 3-year-old girl from Colorado is in critical condition after a 5-year-old boy shot her with a gun that was left unattended by the mother’s boyfriend, say Pueblo police.

According to a police statement, the handgun was found by a 9-year-old boy in a home outside of Colorado Springs on Monday. Police say he then gave it to the 5-year-old boy in the backyard, who proceeded to point it at the girl and pull the trigger.

Police asked the 9-year-old boy learned how he learned to “manipulate” the gun, and he apparently told them he “learned it from video games like Black Ops.” The boyfriend of the victim’s mother, 22-year-old Adrian Chavez, fled the scene after the incident but was later taken into custody.

The girl was shot once and the bullet entered and exited her body without breaking any bones. As of Monday afternoon, she was listed in critical but stable condition.

The two boys will not be charged because of their age. However, Chavez will be charged with child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.

TIME 2014 Election

Democrat Jared Polis Withdraws Support for Colorado Fracking Initiatives

U.S. Representative Jared Polis during the Colorado Democratic Party's State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014.
U.S. Representative Jared Polis during the Colorado Democratic Party's State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014. David Zalubowski—AP

Vulnerable Colorado Democrats breathe a sigh of relief

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, announced at a press conference on Monday that he would be withdrawing his support for ballot initiatives restricting fracking in Colorado. The move comes as a relief to fellow Democrats worried that the initiatives would’ve driven out Republican voters in the fall.

In exchange for withdrawing the controversial initiatives, Polis won a blue-ribbon panel that will be set up to analyze whatever problems might exist. The panel will propose fixes over the next six months to a year.

The initiatives had so scared Democrats that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper had spent the better part of the last month trying to come up with a legislative compromise so he could call the state legislature back into a special session to waylay Polis. But with an Aug. 4 deadline to lock in ballot initiatives, hope for a legislative fix was dwindling.

Meanwhile, Democrats have privately and publicly called on Polis to withdraw the initiatives, but he has refused to do so, saying the Democratic base supports these moves. While that is true, many Democrats worried the fracking issue could draw pro-Republican advertising into the 2014 election in Colorado, motivating more Republicans to vote while hurting Democratic chances among independent voters.

At stake was Democrat Hickenlooper’s tough reelection, along with the reelection of fellow Democratic Senator Mark Udall—and, given the electoral map, potential control of the U.S. Senate. Oil and gas groups were gearing up to pour in $20 million in Colorado to defeat the initiatives, which they say would’ve essentially halved or effectively halted fracking in Colorado. Fracking generated $29.5 billion in economic activity in Colorado in 2012, creating 111,000 direct jobs with an average wage of $74,811, according to the Colorado Petroleum Association.

Polis argued that it’s such a big issue for his constituents, he cannot ignore the problem. He has also introduced federal legislation, which has stalled in the GOP-controlled House.

TIME politics

Colorado Tightening Regulations on Marijuana Edibles

+ READ ARTICLE

Colorado officials are tightening the rules governing marijuana edibles in an effort to reduce the risk of accidental overdoses. Regulators were not only concerned about overdoses, but also wanted products to have more child resistant packaging.

Officials drafted an emergency rule on Thursday making it easier to tell how much THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, would be in the edibles for sale. The result of this action will be weaker edible products and new packaging.

Similar regulations have been implemented in Washington, the only other state where edible sales are legal.

TIME plague

3 New Plague Cases Confirmed in Colorado

The state health department has found a total of four people infected with the pneumonic plague

Three new cases of plague have been identified in Colorado for a total so far of four, the state health department announced Friday.

The four people diagnosed all had contact with a dog that died of the plague. The initial patient remains hospitalized but the three infected later “all had minor symptoms, were treated with appropriate antibiotics, recovered and are no longer contagious,” the health department said in a release.

Plague is spread from rodent—in this case prairie dogs—to other animals, including humans, by rogue fleas.

Of the 60 cases of plague in its various forms that Colorado has seen in recent years, nine people have died from the disease, according to a Bloomberg report. Doctors recommend keeping a safe distance from any rodents, alive or dead.

TIME 2014 Election

Friendly Fire Over Colorado Fracking Could Cost Democrats the U.S. Senate

U.S. Representative Jared Polis during the Colorado Democratic Party's State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014.
U.S. Representative Jared Polis during the Colorado Democratic Party's State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014. David Zalubowski—AP

The reelections of the Democratic governor and U.S. Senator in Colorado are threatened by ballot initiatives pushed by a renegade House Democrat

Correction appended July 15, 2014

With a nail biter election on the horizon that flip control of the U.S. senate, the biggest concern of many Colorado Democrats is one of their own—a wealthy congressman named Jared Polis who is pushing statewide ballot initiatives that party strategists fear could increase Republican turnout in November.

Polis has introduced and is helping garner enough signatures for a state ballot effort would restrict oil and gas fracking, a major issue in his home district where four of the five biggest towns have banned it.

The initiatives have so scared Democrats that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has spent the better part of the last month trying to come up with a legislative compromise so he could call the state legislature back into a special session to waylay Polis. But with an Aug. 4 deadline to lock in ballot initiatives, hope for a legislative fix is dwindling.

Meanwhile, Democrats have privately and publicly called on Polis to withdraw the initiatives, but he has refused to do so, saying the Democratic base supports these moves. While that is true, the fracking issue could motivate Republicans more, by making the oil and gas industry front and center this election year.

“The concern among many Democrats is that the ballot initiatives that we’re talking about are very very appealing the farther left you go; troubling at the center; and on the right, they are turn out machines,” says Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist and Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign manager. “If you’re in a safe district, you’re not concerned. But if you’re a Democrat that has to win statewide these things look a lot different.”

At stake isn’t just Democrat Hickenlooper’s tough reelection, but that of fellow Democrat Senator Mark Udall—and, given the electoral map, potential control of the Senate. Oil and gas groups are gearing up to pour in $20 million in Colorado to defeat the initiatives, which they say would essential halve or effectively halt fracking in Colorado. Fracking generated $29.5 billion in economic activity in Colorado in 2012, creating 111,000 direct jobs with an average wage of $74,811, according to the Colorado Petroleum Association.

“Oil and gas has been the spark of the recovery for Colorado and these initiatives would destroy that,” says Stan Dempsey, head of the association. “Why [Polis] thinks that only he has the perfect solution rather than the experts at the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission is beyond me.” Dempsey notes that the industry just went through an extensive rule making process last year in Colorado.

First elected in 2008, Polis is a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, who founded a number of ecommerce companies, including ProFlowers.com. In 2008, he became the first openly gay parent elected to Congress, and while in office sponsored the Race to the Top education reform and has been a defender of the virtual currency Bitcoin. He represents a relatively safe seat, and given his personal fortune is not beholden to leaders or rich patrons to fundraise.

He first got involved in fracking issues in early 2012 when he lobbied Encana Corp. to halt construction on wells close to Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colorado. “Many families have moved out of that area,” Polis tells TIME. “It absolutely hurt the housing market, then people saw fracking going in.” Polis says that having fracking within eyesight of a building reduces property values between 5% and 15%. He also cites environmental concerns given that there were 400 spills last year alone, many of them in populated areas.

Polis says he isn’t anti-fracking and that he believes in an “all of the above” energy policy. “It’s exciting that our state is contributing to American energy independence,” Polis says. But, he adds, he wants companies to act more respectfully of the population. One of his initiatives would require extending setbacks to 2,000 feet from existing buildings, a move that would cut in half the amount of available land or fracking in Colorado, Dempsey says.

Polis argues that it’s such a big issue for his constituents, he cannot ignore the problem. He would prefer a legislative solution, but the “window for that is closing,” leaving him no choice but to proceed with his ballot initiatives. He has contributed personal money to the push to get enough signatures to get on the ballot.

The Colorado Petroleum Association’s Dempsey compares Polis’s tactics, given the ongoing legislative process, to “negotiating with a gun to our heads.” “If he was serious he’d set aside the ballot initiatives, sit down with all the stakeholders and thrash out a compromise,” Dempsey said of Polis. “But it’s his way or the high way and the high way is going to be an expensive and potentially divisive political fight.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the fracking setback in the Polis ballot initiative. It is 2,000 feet.

TIME Drugs

Colorado Is Consuming Way More Pot Than Anyone Ever Believed

Colorado 420 Rally at Civic Center Park in Denver, Co.
Hundreds of people lit up joints, bongs, pipes and marijuana cigarettes at exactly 4:20 p.m. during the Colorado 420 Rally at Civic Center Park in Denver on April 20, 2014, to celebrate the legal use of marijuana in the state. Helen H. Richardson—Denver Post via Getty Images

And most is consumed by a minority of daily users

About 9% of Colorado’s population consumes marijuana, according to a market demand study conducted by the state department of revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division and the state’s Marijuana Policy Group. And those users, it’s estimated, will get through about 121.4 metric tons of pot every year.

According to the report, that consumption — calculated through survey results, demographic data and source data — is “31 percent higher than a recent department of revenue assessment, 89 percent higher than a study by the Colorado Futures Center, and 111 percent higher than an older study by the Colorado Center for Law and Policy.”

The state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division analyzed the market demand for the drug, which Colorado began selling for recreational use in January, in an effort to “effectively manage production within the regulated industry,” according to a press release.

According to the study, published Wednesday, the bulk of the demand for the drug comes from the most frequent users. About 21.8% of users report consuming marijuana almost daily, accounting for 66.9% of the total demand in the state. That constitutes a lot of consistent tokers. Across the country, only 17% of American adults consume marijuana that frequently, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

About 29.2% of adults report smoking less than once a month in Colorado.

But it looks like Coloradans aren’t the only ones getting Rocky Mountain high. Using sales-tax analysis and data from tourist offices, the study’s authors estimate about 44% of all retail sales of marijuana come from tourists — the bulk of whom visited mountain communities. In all, visitors are expected to consume about 8.9 metric tons of pot per year.

TIME LGBT

Judge: Same-Sex Couples Can Keep Marrying in Colorado

But the gay marriage ban is still in effect

Gay couples can continue to marry in Colorado, but the state’s ban on same-sex marriage will remain in place, a judge ruled Thursday.

District Court Judge Andrew Hartman found that a county clerk can continue issuing marriage license to gay couples while arguments about the constitutionality of Colorado’s prohibition make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hartman said the clerk could ignore a federal stay on a ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which found states cannot set gender requirements for marriage. Clerks in Denver and Boulder told the Associated Press that they plan to issue licenses.

The judge said in his decision that even though gay marriage is technically illegal in the state, the clerk’s actions are not harming anyone. He noted that every judge in the state who has ruled on this issue in the past year has found gay marriage constitutional and predicted the inevitability of the prohibition’s overturn.

TIME Drugs

Colorado Selling Over 10 Tons of Pot Every Month

Marijuana photographed inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colo., Jan. 9, 2014.
Marijuana photographed inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colo., Jan. 9, 2014. Matthew Staver—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Annual market demand roughly 130 metric tons a year, state study finds

Correction appended, July 10

The estimated annual market demand for marijuana in Colorado is roughly 130 metric tons, according to the first post-legalization study of the market.

The study, released by state regulators, used actual sales data to draw up the figure rather than rely on survey responses as studies have done in the past, and was able to provide some revealing information.

Surveys have estimated that a third of marijuana users consumed the drug less than once a month, according to the Associated Press. But the study found that those users comprise only .3 percent of the total market, meaning the most of the marijuana is consumed by heavy, more regular users.

The study’s estimate for total market demand, which includes both medical and recreational marijuana, surpassed past figures by nearly a third. The analysis found that demand from residents hovers around 121 metric tons and demand from visitors stands at around 9 metric tons.

But in some of the Colorado’s vacation spots, out-of-staters account for as much as 90 percent of the recreational dispensary traffic. According to the study, legal marijuana is, on average, going for $220 per ounce.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly suggested that the study contradicted previous findings about infrequent marijuana users in Colorado.

MONEY

Price War Heats Up Between Legal Marijuana and the Black Market

KRYSTAL KLACSAN uses a hole punch on the laminated badges for VIP's and members of the press at Cannabis City
After an initial surge following legalization, Colorado's dispensaries have gradually lowered prices. Brian Cahn—ZUMA Press

Recreational marijuana went on sale legally for the first time in Washington state Tuesday, and early reports indicate it’s not cheap to be an early adopter.

The New York Times reports that a combination of tough regulations, financing troubles, meticulous inspectors, and tight land-use laws have severely slowed the rollout of recreational marijuana dispensaries. Of the 334 vendor licensees authorized for the first wave of stores, only about 20 have actually been granted.

A shortage of stores meeting an avalanche of new demand adds up to high prices for the state’s first recreational pot consumers. According to the Times, an ounce is expected to sell for at least $400. Based on numbers from PriceOfWeed.com, a site that crowdsources national marijuana prices, that’s over twice as much as Washington’s black market consumers pay for an ounce of average quality pot.

If one point of marijuana legalization is to stamp out the unregulated black market, and thus avoid funding drug cartels that cause larger societal harms, sky-high prices for legal marijuana are a serious concern. Most consumers would prefer to purchase dope legally, but the corner dealer might be tempting if he’s selling at half price.

Can legal marijuana compete on price with the black market? Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in January, is a the best case study available. There, in the early going, legal pot prices matched those of Washington’s new dispensaries. Medicine Man, a recreational marijuana shop in north Denver, started out selling marijuana for around $450 an ounce, including tax. “The first couple of months there was literally a line out the door, so we could make that profit,” says Kala Williams, the store’s receptionist and daughter of its owner.

But prices soon dropped as more retailers opened shop. At least half a dozen recreational shops operate within five miles of Medicine Man, which has lowered prices to compete. It now sells a range of marijuana strains for between $198 to $340 per ounce, plus tax. Similarly, an analysis by FiveThirtyEight in late April, about four months after recreational marijuana shops opened, revealed the median sticker price for an ounce of recreational weed in Denver to be $200. After adding Denver’s 7.72% sales tax (most marijuana shops are located in Denver), a 10% marijuana state tax, and an additional 3.5% Denver city tax, a $200 ounce would cost about $242 out the door. Checking store menus online, $200 seems on the low end of the price spectrum, but we had no trouble finding stores offering an ounce for about $300, including tax.

Gauging how these prices compare to the black market is difficult: Street prices vary widely; it’s hard to poll a large sample size; quality is difficult to account for; and drug dealers don’t send out earnings reports. But based on the limited information available, legal weed appears to cost more — but not a lot more — than its black market equivalent. Two Denver residents with knowledge of street prices say contraband pot tends to range from $160 to about $300 an ounce. That roughly correlates with PriceOfWeed’s numbers. If those figures are correct, legal marijuana in Colorado is priced in the upper end of the illegal market.

Whether or not legal marijuana currently competes on price, UCLA’s Mark Kleiman believes it definitely will in the future. A professor of public policy at the Luskin School of Public Affairs, Kleiman says legal weed dealers have one thing the illegal market can never have: The ability to openly invest on machines and other labor-saving technologies that can build economies of scale. “If you have to hide, you have to pay premium wages because people risk going to prison,” said Kleiman. “You can’t invest in expensive fixed tech because you’re worried about a raid.” For example, one of the biggest costs for the illegal drug market is hand trimming the plant’s buds, a process that can be done far more cheaply with machines. Kleiman also believes street dealers will be driven out as concentrates and edibles—marijuana embedded in food—become more popular, as these products are even more difficult to produce without expensive equipment.

His one caveat is that states could end up restricting the amount of land licensed for marijuana production to the point where supply cannot meet demand. That would keep prices permanently inflated, and give street dealers an edge.

That aside, in the long run Kleiman thinks the days of black market pot will soon be over in states where recreational weed is legal, even if prices remain high: “I think illegally growing marijuana in those states will become as common as illegally brewing whiskey.”

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