Colorado’s marijuana businesses growing less than they could |

Colorado’s marijuana businesses growing less than they could

DENVER — Colorado’s marijuana industry is producing a lot less than it could, according to a state report released Friday.

Although state laws limit how many plants a business can cultivate, the monthly average for medical marijuana businesses last year ranged from a third to about half of what they could have produced, according to the annual update released Friday by the marijuana enforcement division of the Department of Revenue. The division estimates retail cultivation averaged 40 percent or less of the production limit.

Other highlights of the report:

— Of Colorado’s 312 cities and towns, 228 prohibit medical and retail licenses. Still, the places that allow sales include the state’s population centers, among them Denver, the capital.

— At the start of the year, the state had licensed 6,593 people to work in the marijuana industry. That had grown to 15,992 by year’s end.

In addressing the disparity between the amount growers can and are producing, the report said some may have been under-reporting as they shifted to a new computer system for tracking inventory. The system meant to monitor every plant from seed to sale in an attempt to ensure none leak to the black market has tracked millions of plants since 2013, according to the Department of Revenue.

Mason Tvert, who was instrumental in Colorado’s marijuana legalization campaign, proposed a simple explanation for the gap between what growers are producing and what they could: economics.

“This is a market like any other,” Tvert said. “Businesses are not going to invest in producing more marijuana than they can sell.”

The report itself, a sober compilation of a wide range of statistics, shows how far the industry has come since Colorado voters approved medical marijuana sales in 2000, Tvert said. Last year was the first of legal retail sales.

Marijuana “is now a legal product like any other that is controlled and regulated,” Tvert said. “I bet less time was spent compiling this report than was spent pursuing and investigating and prosecuting a marijuana dealer for selling less than 1 percent of the product covered in this report.”

Colorado’s government was the world’s first to regulate marijuana production and sales. Tvert acknowledged legalization has not wiped out the black market, but he predicted fewer consumers will turn to illegal sources as the legal business grows and becomes more familiar and convenient.

Still, marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law, and federal authorities are closely monitoring developments in Colorado and other states that have legalized marijuana. Among the federal priorities are ensuring marijuana does not flow from states where it is legal to those where it is not; that proceeds from marijuana sales to not fund criminal enterprises; and that marijuana is kept out of the hands of minors.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Denver, said Friday that his office was working closely with Colorado’s marijuana regulators to “ensure that regulation is not just on paper, but effective in practice.”

Earlier this month, a man indicted after federal raids on Colorado medical marijuana businesses pleaded guilty and is expected to cooperate in the investigation of three men who had been charged alongside him. Also this month, the owners of a mountain hotel and a southern Colorado horse farm filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Denver arguing that legalizing marijuana has harmed their interests and that they should be able to win damages from pot businesses that violate federal law.

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