Sep 23, 2021 - COVID

Denver’s pandemic pot sales soared

A flowerpot with a plant growing out of it that looks like marijuana, but is made of greenbacks.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cannabis consumption in Denver hit an all-time high during the pandemic.

Driving the news: A new city report shows medical and retail marijuana sales totaled about $715 million in 2020, up 21% compared with record-setting sales in 2019.

  • Denver's 215 dispensaries generated more than $70 million in tax revenue, marking a 17% increase over the previous year.

Why it matters: The pandemic accelerated the growth of an already booming industry, as people stuck at home increasingly turned to vices to cope with the mental and emotional toll of COVID-19.

Flashback: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock initially told residents that marijuana stores were nonessential businesses and would need to shutter in the lockdown last March.

  • The announcement led to massive lines before the mayor reversed the move.

What they're saying: "We see no signs of the important role this industry plays in our economic growth slowing down anytime soon," Eric Escudero, spokesperson for the Department of Excise and Licenses, told the Denver Business Journal.

By the numbers: About half of the tax revenue from marijuana last year went into Denver's discretionary spending account to support a slew of city services, from parks and street maintenance to public library operations.

  • $24.6 million was appropriated for affordable housing and homelessness services, youth violence prevention, the STAR program, city leases and more.
  • $8.8 million was allocated to cannabis regulation, enforcement and education efforts.
  • Roughly $1 million was dedicated to free after-school and summer programs for kids from primarily underserved communities.

Of note: Denver's proportion of sales statewide totaled 33%, a dip of about 3% compared to 2019.

  • The decrease is likely due to more cities across Colorado now allowing cannabis sales, Escudero tells Axios.

Zoom out: Cannabis dispensaries statewide generated more than $2 billion in 2020 sales, according to data from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

What's next: This November, Denver residents will be asked to vote on increasing marijuana taxes by 1.5% to fund pandemic-related research.

  • That's in addition to a separate statewide measure voters will consider that seeks a higher tax on cannabis products to support programs designed to close education gaps for low-income students.

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