Aspen marijuana shops sold $11.3 million in 2017, topping liquor stores for first time

Patrons browse product and wait in line at the Roots RX marijuana dispensary in Aspen on January 23.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Flat sales in 2017

Aspen’s retailers reeled in $730.4 million in sales last year. The following is a breakdown each retail sector’s performance.

Category Sales Change from 2016

Accommodations $216.7 million 4%

Restaurants & Bars $129.7 million 3%

Sports Equip/Clothing $47.9 million (2%)

Clothing $57.3 million 0%

Food & Drug $56.1 million 1%

Liquor $10.5 million 0%

Miscellaneous $50 million (1%)

Construction $57.2 million 2%

Luxury Goods $29.4 million 11%

Utilities $43.4 million 0%

Automobile $20.8 million (4%)

Marijuana $11.3 million 16%

Total $730,414,351 2%

Source: City of Aspen Finance Department

There was plenty of green to go around among Aspen’s marijuana dispensaries in 2017, and more than enough to top liquor stores in revenue, as well.

Legal-pot purveyors hauled in $11.3 million in revenue last year compared with $10.5 million for liquor stores, marking the first time marijuana sales outpaced booze for the year in Aspen. The figures were provided Wednesday by the city’s Finance Department in its year-end sales tax report for 2017, which showed Aspen’s retailers combined to generate $730.4 million in revenue, 2 percent better than 2016 (see chart on page A6).

Cannabis revenue last year also marked a 16 percent improvement over 2016, which produced $9.7 million in sales. Of Aspen’s 12 retail sectors, the marijuana industry also enjoyed the biggest rate of growth last year. Liquor store sales were flat between 2016 and 2017, according to the city’s’ report.

“I think it’s meaningful for a couple of reasons,” said Matt Kind, a Boulder entrepreneur and host of the CannaInsider podcast. “One in particular is when people are visiting Aspen and adjusting to a high altitude, some don’t drink for that first couple of days. And I think people are looking for something different from alcohol, which is essentially poison, and marijuana is botanical. I don’t say that with judgment, but you feel some lingering effects with alcohol.”

Six pot shops and five liquor stores are within Aspen city limits. At one time last year, Aspen boasted seven cannabis dispensaries until Leaf closed in the fall.

“I think it shows adults are open to change,” said Max Meredith, store manager at the Stash dispensary. “There are new substitutes, and they can be handled responsibly. And perhaps there are a few less late-night fights.”

Aspen’s liquor stores, however, aren’t exactly struggling. In December, they combined to ring up nearly $1.6 million in sales, topping the $1.2 million brought in by pot shops.

“When (legalized recreational marijuana) first came along, there were questions if it would hurt business,” said Tom Ressel, day manager of the Local Spirits liquor store. “But obviously it hasn’t.”

On the national front, marijuana appears to be having a greater impact on the booze industry. A study released in December by Georgia State University showed a 15 percent drop in alcohol sales in states allowing medical marijuana sales. The study covered a 10-year period from 2006 to 2015.

“Our findings clearly show that these two substances act as strong substitutes in the marketplace,” Georgia State economics professor Alberto Chong said in a statement. “This implies that rather than exacerbating the consequences of alcohol consumption — such as an increase in addiction, car accidents or disease risk — legalizing cannabis may temper them.”

At the Green Dragon cannabis store, manager Kevin Doxtater said the latest sales tax figures show “people are waking up to this.” He and his co-workers added that cannabidiol — more widely referred to as CBD — has attracted a newer wave of retail consumers seeking medical benefits without getting high. Edible marijuana products also have been popular with the more discerning adults, while the younger set leans toward pre-rolled joints, he said.

Kevin Dunkelberg and Fritz Mawickie, both employees at the Carl’s Wine Cellar liquor shop, when told that legal pot outsold booze in Aspen, offered mixed responses.

“People have always like both,” Dunkelberg said.

Said Mawickie: “It’s crazy they’re even close. All of the sudden, pot is equal.”

The two industries combined for 3 percent of all of Aspen’s retail sales last year. That doesn’t account for liquor sold in restaurants and bars, which rang up nearly $130 million in sales last year.

Legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado debuted Jan. 1, 2014. The city initially grouped liquor and pot sales together, but began treating them as separate retail categories in September.