State of Cannabis: Colorado Comes in Second

2016 was a huge year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts analyzes one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments.

We have reviewed all 50 states and are now almost ready to reveal our top pick when it comes to cannabis. This post focuses on the runner-up, Colorado, which along with Washington, was the first state to vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 3. Washington; 4. California;  5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.


Recreational Marijuana. Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in November 2012, legalizing recreational marijuana. In Colorado, adults 21 and over can possess up to one ounce of marijuana of useable marijuana. Colorado allows for home grows, meaning adults are allowed to grow cannabis plants in their homes. The state allows up to six marijuana plants in a private and locked space in a residence and a person may possess all marijuana grown from those plants, so long as that marijuana stays on the premises.

Colorado’s recreational marijuana market is the nation’s oldest. Though Washington and Colorado both voted to legalize marijuana on the same date, Colorado was the first to implement its recreational market. That market is made up of licensed cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. The Colorado Department of Revenue oversees Colorado’s licensed cannabis entities. According to the Department’s website, Colorado’s market is currently made up of 441 retail stores, 623 cultivation facilities, 241 product manufacturers, and 13 testing facilities. Colorado cannabis eclipsed $1 billion in sales in only the first ten months of 2016 according to Fortune.

Colorado (Denver, actually) is in the forefront (sort of) on public consumption of cannabis. Denver voters approved Initiative 300 to allow private businesses to offer space for their patrons to consume cannabis. However, the Liquor Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue recently approved a rule prohibiting businesses with a liquor license from applying for cannabis consumption permits under Initiative 300. This new rule will mean that Denver bars and restaurants that serve alcohol cannot also allow their patrons to use cannabis on-site.

Medical Marijuana. Colorado first approved the medical use of marijuana in 2000 when Colorado voters approved Amendment 20. Patients may possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and may cultivate no more than six marijuana plants. Doctors may recommend more to treat a patient’s specific medical needs. The following are qualifying conditions for which a patient may use medical cannabis:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
  • Persistent muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Severe nausea
  • Severe pain

Colorado patients may purchase cannabis at licensed medical dispensaries at a lower tax rate than recreational users. Colorado’s medical cannabis industry continues to operate alongside its recreational cannabis market.

Bottomline. Colorado ranks so high on our list largely because it has a proven history of being on the cutting edge of cannabis reform. It was the first to implement recreational marijuana and it has had an operational medical market for nearly twenty years. Colorado is now moving forward with allowing public consumption of cannabis as well. The cannabis industry is booming in Colorado, with profits from cannabis exceeding initial projections. One could argue that Colorado’s successful legalization has done more for legalization nationwide than that of any other state. One could also make a good argument for Colorado having done more to end the stigma surrounding cannabis than another state.

Next week we will conclude this series by revealing our number one cannabis state and. Our number one state owes a lot to Colorado and to Washington (our number three state) for its number one ranking. That state achieved its lead ranking by having been able to learn from the two great states (Colorado and Washington) that preceded it on legalizing cannabis.

Stay tuned.

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