Arizona's medical-marijuana numbers keep getting higher and higher, with 2017 setting all kinds of records.
Phoenix New Times obtained an early copy of the year-end numbers from the Arizona Department of Health Services, and they show continued rapid growth in the state's medical-cannabis industry.
In 2017, patients smoked, ate, vaped, or otherwise consumed more than 43 tons of cannabis products, including flower, edibles, and concentrates.
That's nearly a 50 percent increase over the 29 tons sold in 2016.
But it's not too surprising considering that December 2017 ended with about 153,000 patients, or 34 percent more than the same month in 2016.
If you could have invested in Arizona medical marijuana, maybe you should have.
After voters approved the program in 2010, the first dispensaries opened in late 2012. In 2013, the first full year with both patients (about 40,000) and a few state-legal dispensaries where they could buy cannabis, the small number of fledgling dispensaries sold 2.5 tons of marijuana products.
After five years and the rise of about 130 dispensaries statewide, the amount sold has risen by an amazing 1,620 percent.
Local and state sales tax applies to medical marijuana. Despite what you've been told by prohibitionists, even a relatively small program like Arizona's (there are about 700 dispensaries in Colorado) brings in a decent chunk of change for the government.
Estimating an ounce of dispensary cannabis at $250-$300, and an average tax rate of 9 percent, state and local treasuries took in an extra $31-$37 million last year. And that's just from the tonnage sold, not the taxes from the payrolls of thousands of people in the industry, or other taxes, like property taxes paid on the land being used by dispensaries.
The skyrocketing trend makes it easy to forget that Arizona's state-legal cannabis industry actually could be much, much bigger.
States surrounding Arizona including Colorado, Nevada, and California now all have laws that allow all adults 21 and older to buy, possess, and even grow, small amounts of marijuana. Arizona voters turned down Prop 205, a similar proposal in 2016 that would have caused a huge increase in the amount of cannabis sold in the state, (though not a big increase in the number of dispensaries, which was one of the many reasons it failed.)
Then again, it's still unknown how the feds intend to handle rebel states like Arizona that defy the Controlled Substances Act, which declares marijuana to be a Schedule I illegal drug, like heroin. U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions recently canceled Obama-era protections that stopped federal law enforcement from shutting down program's like Arizona's.
Locally, a trio of conservative lawmakers are pushing bills this year that could make life tougher on patients and dispensaries.
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Maybe 2018 will be an off year for the cannabis industry.
But the fact is, uncertainty and the possibility of legal problems have been with this industry from the beginning, and the entrepreneurs who take the risks are making out well — as the new numbers show.
The state DHS expects to post this 11-page report on its website in a day or so. But we know many of you are looking forward to reading it, so here you go: