When Colorado and Washington State voters legalized marijuana in 2012, cannabis enthusiasts from across the nation were thrilled by the prospect of easy access to hassle-free weed–just hop on a flight to Denver or Seattle, cruise on into a safe and legal pot retailer and walk out with enough high-grade marijuana to keep you more or less permanently stoned.
But it's a pretty safe bet that not many of those people flying into Denver were expecting to pay up to $400 an ounce (which varies wildly) plus up to 30 percent sales tax at the store, though–especially when, with a local connection and a phone call, they could still go visit an old-fashioned neighborhood drug dealer and pay a fraction of the cost for weed that's every bit as fun and couch-locking as the state-sanctioned stuff.
The problem is a simple one of supply and demand–and Colorado is working on some new rules that they really, really hope will make legal weed more affordable while still keeping the state's marijuana crop from traveling out of state to places where it's still extremely illegal.
It's a balancing act that, to this point, hasn't really worked well for anybody–especially consumers.
According to the Associated Press, Colorado pot regulators are working on revising the state's marijuana production rules, which predate full legalization and still limit pot production to the number of medical marijuana patients served by each individual grower.
The result was that, when pot became fully legal to anyone over the age of 21 earlier this year, there was a massive demand for weed that growers limited by the old production caps couldn't meet. The net result was outrageously expensive retail marijuana.
The medical marijuana production caps were kept in place to keep tabs on the amount of weed grown in Colorado in an attempt to keep any of it from accidentally wandering across the state line to decidedly weed-unfriendly places like Kansas and Wyoming.
The proposed new guidelines wouldn't necessarily increase the state's overall marijuana production, but it would make it easier for legal growers to add more plants provided that they prove that their selling at least 85 percent of their inventory first.
But here's the something-straight-out-of-Food Inc.-problem with the proposed revised state regulations: smaller (and generally more eco-friendly) greenhouse growers claim that the new rules unfairly favor larger, more resource-exhaustive grow operations often housed in giant warehouses. The proposed rules would cap greenhouse operations at 1,800 plants, while warehouse operations–which typically suck up gargantuan amounts of electricity–would be allowed to grow 3,600 plants.
"The only person who is going to benefit is either the power companies, people who are renting warehouses or people who have built huge growing warehouses," said Thomas Killeen, a would-be greenhouse pot grower from Colorado Springs.
To put the power use issue into context, a single warehouse grow operation uses roughly the same amount of electricity as one of Facebook's data centers. It's estimated that indoor marijuana cultivation accounts for about 10 percent of Denver's annual electricity consumption alone, in Boulder that number rises to 12 percent.
A greenhouse, of course, uses the sun—which does mean slightly lower yields for growers, but is a helluva lot cheaper and certainly cleaner than fossil-fuel generated electricity.
The need for Colorado to change their cannabis production caps is apparent–the state can't possibly hope to generate the promised tax revenue from legal marijuana (much of which is funneled to the state's public schools) if the legal stuff can't even remotely compete pace price-wise with the state's well-stocked black market.
According to new official estimates, marijuana sales tax revenues so far in 2014 are well-short of the state's previous estimates by over $20 million–the ease of obtaining much less expensive medical marijuana (which is taxed at the state's normal 2.9 percent sales tax rate instead of the sky-high nearly 30 percent tax on retail weed in some locations across the state) is a major factor, but the increasing legal supply problems are starting to become a noticeable factor as well.
According to the researchers, nearly 23 percent of the state's marijuana users have medical marijuana cards–a number that lawmakers and policy experts thought would decrease under full legalization but which has actually grown thanks largely to the higher sales tax rate.
Under Colorado law, state residents over the age of 21 can grow up to six plants for their own personal use–but often times those plants wind up on the black market along with resold medical marijuana, denying the state a big chunk of tax revenue.
The proposed marijuana grow operation regulation changes went into provisional effect in June, but the AP reports that the final call on the changes rests with Colorado Department of Revenue Secretary Barbara Brohl, who has not yet set a deadline for a decision.
Image via AP