Aspen sells nearly $10 million in pot in 2016 | AspenTimes.com

Aspen sells nearly $10 million in pot in 2016

Dispensaries in Aspen sold more than $9.7 million worth of marijuana in 2016, according to the city's Finance Department.

The final 2016 marijuana sales total of $9.73 million released by the city late last week was nearly $1.4 million more than 2015's total of $8.35 million. Both figures include recreational and medical marijuana sales in the city.

In fact, the $9.7 million in pot sales for 2016 also eclipsed the amount of package alcohol sold in the city in 2015 by more than $1 million. The total amount of package alcohol sold in Aspen in 2016 — which does not include alcohol sold at bars and restaurants — is not yet available because December tax numbers have not yet been reported, according to the Finance Department.

But through November, package liquor sales in Aspen totaled just over $8.8 million, so final sales numbers will likely come in around $10 million based on last year's December alcohol sales, which were, by far, the largest of any month in 2015, according to Finance Department statistics.

"To me, what's interesting is how close to alcohol (marijuana sales are)," said Aspen City Councilman Bert Myrin. "They're almost matched."

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo also was struck by the near-tie.

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"Isn't that unbelievable?" he said. "I think maybe people are seeing it as an alternative to alcohol."

Last year, pot sales in the city never reached $1 million in any of the 12 months. The closest was March 2015 when marijuana dispensaries rang up more than $998,000.

But in 2016, marijuana sales topped $1 million in five separate months, according to the city's statistics. The biggest month, again, was spring break-fueled March, when more than $1.1 million worth of weed was sold in the city.

The next biggest, million-dollar-plus months were January, July, December and August, according to the statistics. Those same five months also saw the highest marijuana sales in 2015.

The lowest monthly sales total in 2016 fell in May, when dispensaries sold nearly $384,000 worth of pot. May 2015 also featured the year's softest sales of nearly $338,000. Calls to two local dispensaries for comment on the trends were not returned.

While Aspen's $9.7 million in sales might seem like a lot, consider that statewide marijuana sales totals that don't yet include numbers for December 2016 are at nearly $1.2 billion, according to The Denver Post's The Cannabist. The state sold about $996 million worth of recreational and medical pot in 2015.

The $9.7 million in marijuana sales translated into $356,426 in sales taxes for the city of Aspen, though that number does not include the state remittance for December, according to the Finance Department. The total comes from a 2.4 percent city sales tax as well as 15 percent of the state's 10 percent tax on retail marijuana.

Last year, The Aspen Times reported that the city received just $200,341 in sales tax from marijuana sales. That number was wrong because the city's Finance Department did not provide the amount of remittance from the state tax on retail marijuana, despite the fact that the Times asked for all taxes the city received from marijuana sales.

Aspen Finance Director Don Taylor did not respond to an email Friday asking why those tax numbers were not furnished last year.

The Aspen City Council has said it will dip into marijuana tax revenue to fund educational programs, Councilman Adam Frisch said.

"We should be able to dedicate a healthy portion of that tax money for education and outreach, especially for juveniles and youth," Frisch said. "I think it's a no-brainer."

No one has asked for the money yet, though the council has started a conversation with the Valley Marijuana Council about how best to spend it, he said.

The Valley Marijuana Council, co-founded by DiSalvo, aims to help implement recreational marijuana safely and responsibly into Roaring Fork Valley communities, according to the group's website.

Lori Mueller, executive director of YouthZone and a member of the council, said the group is continuing to try to come up with a plan to keep marijuana out of the hands of children on a valleywide basis. YouthZone counsels middle and high school children who have gotten into trouble with alcohol or drugs.

And while a recent survey of marijuana use among the small group of kids YouthZone sees indicated slight increases, Mueller said the statewide statistics she's seen consistently indicate marijuana use among Colorado youth in general has not gone up. In addition, she's noticed more parents talking openly to their children about marijuana now that it's legal.

"Two years ago, I would have said absolutely, without a doubt there will be repercussions (of marijuana legalization) we didn't plan for," she said. "But we have seen things settle down.

"I've changed my tune a little bit."

Still, Mueller said she remains concerned about children and marijuana.

"We want to know why they're using," she said.

Colorado's Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee, which recently released its second report on the public health ramifications of legalized pot, said about 21 percent of the state's high school students used the drug in 2015. That compares with 20 percent in 2013, the year before legalization, and about 17 percent nationwide, according to the committee's report.

The same report also says marijuana-related emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers about marijuana poisoning have decreased. In Aspen, however, the number of emergency room marijuana poisoning cases at Aspen Valley Hospital increased in 2016, according to hospital statistics.

Aspen Valley Hospital doctors treated 16 people for marijuana poisoning in 2014, including four who were 19 years and younger. In 2015, 17 people were treated for it, including two 19 and younger. Last year, though, doctors treated 28 people for marijuana poisoning, though just one was 19 years old or younger, said Ginny Dyche, hospital spokeswoman.

In the city and Pitkin County, however, law enforcement officials report few, if any, ill effects from the legalization of recreational marijuana, which began Jan. 1, 2014.

"As far as the Police Department goes, marijuana legalization continues to have not much impact on us," said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn. "Maybe later, when we can see the forest (for the trees), things will be different."

Sheriff DiSalvo said he's seen zero problems related to legalization.

"There's not been a significant public safety threat," he said. "I think we're starting to see the fear and loathing surrounding this product is not what it was thought to be.

"In my opinion, alcohol is a far less-safe product in terms of its effect on the body."

jauslander@aspentimes.com

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