Colorado raking in taxes from legalized weed
A pall hangs over Denver, Colorado. Lawlessness stalks its streets, while stupefied potheads loll on every corner, stoned senseless on legal weed.
Well, actually, no, it’s not really like that at all. Really, it’s just another day.
Denver’s like any other big American city: on the 16th Street Mall, there are vagrants on the corners, Broncos and Patriots fans spooling around while they wait for the start of the AFC final later in the day. Coffee shops are setting out chairs in the unseasonable warmth, and a robot street performer, painted entirely silver, is making plans with friends for after the game.
At lunchtime, the bartender at the Rhein House is wrestling with the beer lines: the cooling system has run amok, heating the lines instead. Cold beer is spraying out of the nozzles as foam. It’s going to make for a hard afternoon selling a different kind of recreational drug.
And as far as legal weed goes?
It hasn’t had much of a mark, beyond, well, money.
“Tourism and cash.” That’s the bartender’s take as he dumps out glasses of foam. “The federal government could come in and shut it down at any time, but they’re just watching the money.”
And money there is.
The taxes Colorado’s collected so far? Well, the government’s own numbers show US$12.2 million in taxes, licences and fees for December 2015 alone — $72 million in the first nine months of this fiscal year, on track for close to $100 million by the end of 2015-16. More than taxes on alcohol.
The kind of money that Canadian governments must be thinking about, especially because the federal government has promised legalization, and, with the current economic downtown, there’s not one province that couldn’t use a source of cash. Especially a source of cash that’s brand new, on a product that is currently virtually the sole preserve of criminals. There probably won’t be weed tourists, not if the legalization is nationwide — but there would be taxes, and weed stores.
The Euflora Cannabis Dispensary is like any other store on the 16th Street Mall.
Its pixillated electronic sign, as big as any other retail store’s, lights up at 10 a.m., right around the time a man spins his wheelchair to a nearby corner, carefully positions the stump of his leg, in plain and bare sight, bluntly amputated above the knee, and starts his patter: “Got any change for a one-legged man?”
Inside, the store is as sparse and clean as a cosmetics store: marijuana on display in plastic jars you can crack open and smell, $20 a gram for different strains with names like Cherry Skunk and Joker. Beside each jar, an iPad with a touch-screen menu for the different effects of each strain — the side-effects, the different types of high. With the exception of the security checking everyone’s identification at the door, it could be any store, anywhere.
Weed dispensaries have popped up all over the city, growth mirrored, fittingly, only by the number of craft brewing operations: “It was a church yesterday, now it’s a brewery,” the Rhein House bartender quips.
One street over, it’s simpler commerce: “Wanna buy my all-day bus ticket?” a woman shouts.
“I just got back from selling mine,” her intended customer calls back.
On the street, there are a handful of people outside smoking. Most of the time, it’s the sharp, familiar smell of tobacco smoke.
Other times, the heavy, pungent skunkiness of marijuana.
And in both cases, the smell of taxes rolling in.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com — Twitter: @Wangersky.