Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), in an annual government report, said that in 2018, the share of legal marijuana sales in the state that came from the recreational market outpaced sales from the medical market. In a milestone for Colorado, adult-use recreational sales of flower was twice that of medical marijuana purchases — a recreational-medical gap increase of 73 percent in one year. Recreational use now represents 66 percent of the market.
The increase in recreational sales is generally attributed to the ongoing development and expansion of Colorado’s adult-use cannabis market since the first recreational shops opened in the state in 2014. At that time, medical marijuana sales were higher than recreational sales, with close to 39,000 pounds sold attributed to the adult-use recreational market side and on the flip side, almost 110,000 pounds was sold to medical marijuana patients.
Four years later, those numbers are small in comparison to MED’s numbers for 2018, with 288,292 pounds of cannabis flower sold for recreational use and 147,863 pounds sold to medical marijuana patients. Those numbers represent an increase from 2017 as well, with recreational consumers buying up 238,149 pounds and patient-purchases totaling 172,994 pounds. In 2016, medical and recreational sales were generally even. But those numbers began increasing. In an annual comparison, 436,155 pounds of cannabis were sold in 2018 versus 411,143 pounds sold in 2017.
Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis recently touted the fact that the state has collected more than $1 billion in cannabis revenue that has been allocated to a variety of social programs. Gov. Polis also mentioned in a recent conference with governors across the country that the piece of legislation he signed, allowing for home deliveries of cannabis products, could help mitigate impaired driving.
The report from MED is the culmination of constant data collection and ongoing analysis. MED data also revealed that licenses for recreational marijuana facilities increased by three percent and medical business licenses decreased by eight percent.
Additionally, the report showed that the adult-use recreational market is the primary destination for those purchasing edibles, with 86 percent of edible sales originating from recreational consumers. The data also revealed that 75 percent of cultivated cannabis plants were for recreational adult use.
These trends aren’t exclusive to Colorado, either. An analysis by the Associated Press (AP) in June detailed how states across the country with established recreational cannabis programs have experienced a dip in the number of medical patients while consumers move over to the adult-use recreational side of the market.
More Rec, Less Med
One of the explanations on why individuals who initially sought out medical cannabis recommendations are choosing not to renew their registration is the availability of recreational cannabis stores. The reason for consumption isn’t changing, however. Another study found that many recreational customers are consuming cannabis for the same reasons registered medical patients do, which includes pain relief and sleep issues.
An interesting piece of data gleaned from the MED report is the interest from both medical and recreational participants in concentrates. The quantity of units sold to both groups almost doubled from 2017 to 2018. While concentrates are sold at a higher rate in the recreational marketplace, the potency appeals to both recreational consumers and medical patients.
Despite the generally positive data, some cannabis advocates are concerned. The worry is that adult-use recreational legalization could result in higher prices for medical patients, or leave them with fewer therapeutic options as the demand for products high in THC goes up. States like Colorado, with both medical and recreational cannabis, are encouraged to continue to provide adequate patient benefits to ensure a robust medical program.