New numbers from the Colorado Department of Revenue show that marijuana sales by government-licensed stores in that state totaled nearly $1 billion in 2015, making marijuana almost as big as craft beer by that measure. Marijuana sales raised $135 million in taxes and fees for the state last year.
“These tax revenue figures are truly impressive,” says Mason Tvert, communications director at the Marijuana Policy Project. “Just six years ago, Colorado received zero dollars in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana in the state.”
While $135 million is indeed a lot compared to $0, it looks less impressive compared to the state budget, which totals $26.4 billion this fiscal year. In other words, last year’s marijuana money, $109 million of which came from taxes on recreational sales, amounts to about 0.5 percent of state spending.
That comparison does not dampen Tvert’s enthusiasm, because he ignores it. Instead he focuses on the 78 percent increase in revenue between 2014 (the first year of legal recreational sales) and 2015 and the fact that the 15 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana raised $35 million for school construction last year, just $5 million less than the maximum allocated by Amendment 64, Colorado’s legalization initiative. In addition to the excise tax, Colorado collects a 10 percent special sales tax on recreational marijuana, plus a 2.9 percent standard sales tax (which also applies to medical sales). Local governments can impose their own taxes, which in Denver total almost 12 percent.