Colorado has gone to pot

It’s Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high

John Denver and Mike Taylor


The Alberta government released draft framework for cannabis adult use in Alberta in early October. They made some preliminary decisions about the rollout:

  • Legal age 18 and possession of 30 grams (about an ounce).
  • Federally approved private sector production and government controlled distribution (ALCB).
  • An open question about the sales model – should it be public or private?
  • Strong focus on policing and public education.

The framework document is distressingly vague

If it is the conceptual business plan for implementation, it is woefully weak. There are only about 260 days until July 1st 2018. There is a strong case to delay implementation until more details are worked out.

The Alberta government’s website has very little information. There is a small secretariat tucked away in the Justice and Solicitor General department. The department’s business plan does not mention cannabis implementation.

Nor is there any evidence that there is formalized advisory work from external groups. No committees or outside task-forces. No hearings or public meetings – just a fill in the blanks survey. Severely Normal Albertans ought to have a little free floating anxiety about this sleep-walking approach to implementation.

There is a further consultation process that Severely Normal Albertans should weigh in on

You have until October 27th for participate.

If you choose to fill in the survey consider the advice and experience of Colorado:


  • Keep the tax rate low to reduce the black market
  • Don’t overestimate tax revenues
  • Pay attention to edibles (brownies, gummies, lollipops)
  • Work on:
    • health
    • agricultural considerations
    • land use zoning
    • local enforcement and criminal penalties

The State of Colorado has some similarities to Alberta. Its population is about 5.5 million to Alberta’s 4.2 million. Its GDP is $385 billion to our $288 billion. The economic sectors are similar (energy, agriculture, tourism). And we share the Rocky Mountains!

Colorado was the first US state to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use. Colorado had previously legalized medical marijuana in 2000. Legalization was approved by a plebiscite in November 2012 and implemented in 2014. Between January 2014 and today, cannabis sales (medical and recreational) are over $4.0 billion.

The basics of the Colorado program:

  • Legal age 21
  • Possession amount 1 ounce. (28 grams)
  • Possession of 1 to 2 ounces is a $100 fine, more than that is a criminal offence
  • Consuming it in public unless allowed by municipal government regulation is illegal
  • Impaired driving or having an open container are illegal

Here are some snippets of the Colorado experience:

  • Colorado offered its first adult-sales licenses to medical marijuana producers who knew the business
  • Today there are 400 stores and 275 manufacturers and a single transportation company
  • The all-in tax rate on marijuana is about 20%. (It seems that a tax rate higher than 10% to 20% does not curb the black market).
  • Colorado plans to drop its tax rate by 2% in 2018
  • Prices are expected to decline as the market matures
  • Year One 2014) sales were $700 million; (71 tonnes); 10,000 jobs $63 million in state taxes
  • Year Two $996 million (111 tonnes); 18,000 jobs; $121 million in state taxes
  • Year Three $1.3 billion and growing steadily in 2017
  • Growth rate of 11% annually is expected until market saturation occurs about 2022
  • There is a shift from the black markets to regulated suppliers. In 2014 the legal market was about 60% of sales
  • About 10% of the market is “grow your own”
  • Part of the market growth is from tourists.

Health and population findings from a Colorado study:

  • Health risks to young children are significant from either accidental eating marijuana or second hand smoke at home.
  • Marijuana emergency calls declined after a first year spike – perhaps due to greater public education
  • 5% of high school students use marijuana daily or nearly daily; the same as rest of USA
  • 6% of pregnant women used marijuana while pregnant
  • 25% of adults ages 18-25 reported using marijuana in the past month and 12% use it daily or nearly daily.
  • Marijuana use among adults and adolescents has not changed since legalization (stable numbers and frequency of use) (lower than alcohol use)