Arizonans Bought 19 Tons of Medical Pot in 2015

Qualified Arizonans legally bought and consumed more than 19 tons of medical-marijuana products in 2015, spending about $215 million.

The Arizona Department of Health Services keeps a running total of dispensary sales and released its December report this week, allowing New Times to calculate last year's totals. The DHS released similar information in a single report a year ago, showing that in 2014, about 60,000 patients bought 10 tons of cannabis products. In 2013, the voter-approved program's first year of dispensaries, consumers bought about 2.5 tons.

December ended with about 88,500 registered patients and another 2,250 dispensary agents, records show, for a grand total of nearly 91,000 state residents who can legally possess and use cannabis under the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. That's about 50 percent more patients than in 2014, and those patients bought nearly 100 percent more cannabis than in the previous year, likely owing to the ever-widening selection of cannabis products on dispensary shelves.

This year, for the first time, the DHS added an "other" category of products to account for the burgeoning market of concentrates like shatter, wax, vaporizing hash oil, and tinctures.

Last year, the official reports show, Arizona medical-marijuana patients bought 555,939 ounces of flowers (buds), 47,284 ounces of edibles, and 11,352 ounces of "other," for a total of 614,575 ounces. Additional statistics about patients and the program can be found on the Arizona DHS website.

Assuming an average of $350 an ounce, that means patients spent about $215,101,250.

Averaging in state and city sales tax of about 9 percent shows that legal Arizona weed enriched government treasuries by $19.4 million. The money didn't come at the expense of Arizona teens, either: Teen use of cannabis from 2012 to 2014 decreased slightly, federal surveys show.

Anywhere from $40 million to $72 million in tax revenue could be captured from existing marijuana users if voters approve an adult-use legalization measure expected to be on the ballot in November, according to some estimates. Judging by the taxes already brought in by the nonprofit dispensaries, the higher figure is a better guess. Roughly half a million Arizonans use marijuana currently, according to various surveys.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.