Mesa County, Colo. Marijuana sales grow despite having only one dispensary
Special to the Free Press
Results from a 2014 survey by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment were released in June, revealing that statewide, 13.6 percent of adults aged 18 and older currently use marijuana.
In Mesa County (Region 19), only 5.4 percent of adults reported current use.
“It’s kind of surprising, but it makes me think that people aren’t being honest based on the customers we see on a daily basis,” said Stephanie Litsheim, manager at Kush Gardens in De Beque.
Kush Gardens opened its doors on Jan. 17, 2015, as the first recreational marijuana shop in Mesa County. Elk Mountain Trading Post Retail Cannabis, also in De Beque, is set to open in a few weeks.
According to Litsheim, 30 percent of Kush Gardens’ customers are from out of state, while 25 percent come from Grand Junction alone.
Currently, there are two recreational marijuana delivery services available in Grand Junction: 420 Supply Delivery and GJ Bud. Though neither are brick and mortar stores, retail marijuana products are available through online delivery request forms. Colorado Alternative Health in Palisade is the only medical marijuana dispensary in Mesa County.
The Colorado Department of Revenue’s (CDOR) Marijuana Enforcement Division released its first annual update earlier this year, with findings indicating that retail marijuana edibles dominated the market — a whopping 4,815,650 units were sold in 2014, with 2,850,733 coming from retail alone.
“The thing about edibles is that they’re the most affordable way to use marijuana. It’s a pretty guaranteed dosage rate,” Litsheim explained. “Our market here is probably 40- to 60-year-olds, and they do buy a lot of edibles.”
Edibles, flower, and concentrates included, legal marijuana was a $700 million industry in 2014, with the medical and recreational markets bringing in $63 million in tax revenue and $13 million in licenses and fees, according to a Washington Post review of CDOR’s marijuana tax data.
But of the 321 local municipalities in Colorado, only 67 currently have medical and/or retail licenses contributing to those numbers — and Grand Junction is not one of them.
On Sept. 4, 2013, Ordinance No. 4599, prohibiting the operation of marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana product manufacturing and testing facilities and retail marijuana stores, was adopted by the Grand Junction City Council. According to the ordinance, the prohibition of medical marijuana related facilities in April 2011 and the fact that marijuana continues to be prohibited under federal law are both reasons why the ordinance was proposed.
“This ordinance is necessary to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the city,” it reads.
According to the official minutes, Councilmember Bennett Boeschenstein referenced Denver’s handling of marijuana legalization, expressing that he thought it was “premature for Grand Junction to allow it at this time” but that City Council “may want to reconsider in the future.”
Of the 10 comments expressed during public hearing, seven Grand Junction residents were against the ordinance. Regardless, it was passed after a unanimous vote — although Councilmembers McArthur and Doody agreed with Boeschenstein that the ordinance should be reviewed later.
On June 18, trustees in Parachute, Colo. voted 4-2 to reverse their ban on retail marijuana sales as the town was experiencing a decline in sales tax revenue.
Is Grand Junction missing out on an opportunity for economic growth?
Lifting the ban on recreational marijuana would allow for businesses to add to “miscellaneous retail,” which accounted for the highest percent (19.6) of sales tax revenue in 2014. The category, which includes furniture, electronics & appliances, clothing and other specialty retail stores, experienced a $148,899 decline (or 1.8 percent) in revenue from the previous year.
“As a business, we’ve actually sent De Beque a lot of tax money,” said Garye Madison, budtender at Kush Gardens.
Litsheim agreed, referencing the town’s prediction of obtaining $100,000 in recreational marijuana tax revenue this year.
“They’ve already hit that in six months,” Litsheim said. “Hopefully in time it’ll trickle through and maybe [Grand Junction] will realize this is actually a good thing to be embraced. Their schools could use it.”
Overall, Grand Junction’s sales tax revenue has grown by nine percent in the last five years — numbers not indicative of a need for growth. However, according to Colorado marijuana tax data, the city could be contributing to a monthly average of more than $700,000 in retail marijuana sales tax revenue at 2.9 percent, not including an additional 10 percent special sales tax more than doubling that average in the state.
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