Colorado's Booming Marijuana Industry Generates Over $1 Billion for Public Services—Here's How It's Spent

Colorado's state revenue from its booming marijuana industry has surpassed $1 billion, official data shows—and that money is going towards vital public services.

In 2014, Colorado legalized retail marijuana for adults wishing to consume the drug recreationally, becoming the first of several states to do so after a public vote two years earlier. It already permitted marijuana consumption for medical purposes.

Since then, Colorado's marijuana market has grown significantly, generating $6.5 billion in sales, state data shows. In 2018 alone, the state's annual marijuana sales passed $1.5 billion. Data for the first quarter of this year show it is on course to achieve the same, perhaps more.

On Wednesday, Colorado released a report showing that it had now received $1,017,120,136 in revenue via taxation, licensing and fees since the legalization of marijuana, as revenues rise and rise with each passing year.

The state also highlighted how that revenue is being distributed. Some is going directly to a public school construction fund and local authorities within the state. But the bulk of the revenue is going into the state's Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.

That fund is used to pay for a wide range of public services in the state. Colorado's state appropriations report goes into detail about exactly where the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund money is spent.

For example, in 2018-19 the lion's share of $67.7 million went to human services, public health and environment, which included money for programs to raise public awareness about drugs, tackle drug-related problems through treatment, for the prevention of alcohol and substance abuse, and mental health.

A further $21.6 million that year went to local affairs, the bulk of which went on affordable housing construction. Another $20.4 million was appropriated for school health professionals, early literacy and preventing school bullying and student dropouts.

The state is worried about losing its early advantage in the marijuana industry as more states liberalize and seize the economic opportunities that cannabis offers.

"Today's report continues to show that Colorado's cannabis industry is thriving, but we can't rest on our laurels," Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a release.

"We can and we must do better in the face of increased national competition. We want Colorado to be the best state for investment, innovation and development for this growing economic sector.

"This industry is helping grow our economy by creating jobs and generating valuable revenue that is going towards preventing youth consumption, protecting public health and safety and investing in public school construction."

Colorado marijuana industry data
A member of the International Church of Cannabis wears a marijuana themed hat during the church's 4/20 celebration on April 20, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. JASON CONNOLLY/AFP/Getty Images