Marijuana shops in Aspen raked in the green in 2017, topping liquor sales with $11.3 million in revenue vs. $10.5 million of alcohol in the Colorado resort town home to just under 7,000 residents, and tens of thousands of tourists who are more mellow than ever.
The figures, provided Wednesday in the city's Finance Department year-end tax sales report for 2017, show Aspen retailers taking in a combined $730.4 million in revenue, up slightly over 2016.
Marijuana sales jumped 16% over 2016, which saw $9.7 million in sales - marking the largest increase among Aspen's 12 retail sectors. Meanwhile, liquor store sales were flat year-over-year.
"I think it's meaningful for a couple of reasons," said Matt Kind, a Boulder entrepreneur and host of the CannaInsider podcast. "One in particular is when people are visiting Aspen and adjusting to a high altitude, some don't drink for that first couple of days. And I think people are looking for something different from alcohol, which is essentially poison, and marijuana is botanical. I don't say that with judgment, but you feel some lingering effects with alcohol." -Aspen Times
Aspen has six pot shops and five liquor stores, though one of the dispensaries closed last fall.
“I think it shows adults are open to change,” said Max Meredith, store manager at the Stash dispensary. “There are new substitutes, and they can be handled responsibly. And perhaps there are a few less late-night fights.”
Despite fears that the cannabis industry would cannibalize alcohol sales, Aspen's liquor stores are doing just fine - beating marijuana sales in December with nearly $1.6 million in sales vs. $1.2 million for pot.
“When (legalized recreational marijuana) first came along, there were questions if it would hurt business,” Tom Ressel, day manager of the Local Spirits liquor store tells Summit Daily. “But obviously it hasn’t.”
While that may be the case for Aspen - a study by Georgia State University Economics Professor, Alberto Chong, finds a 15 percent drop in alcohol sales which also allow medical marijuana sales over a 10 year period ending in 2015.
The study analyzed beer, wine and alcohol sales for over 2,000 U.S. counties using the Nielson Retail Scanner database, which they note provides a more accurate measure of alcohol consumption than self-reported surveys.
“Our findings clearly show that these two substances act as strong substitutes in the marketplace,” Chong said, adding “This implies that rather than exacerbating the consequences of alcohol consumption—such as an increase in addiction, car accidents or disease risk—legalizing cannabis may temper them.”
At the Green Dragon cannabis store, manager Kevin Doxtater said the latest sales tax figures show “people are waking up to this.” He and his co-workers added that cannabidiol — more widely referred to as CBD — has attracted a newer wave of retail consumers seeking medical benefits without getting high. Edible marijuana products also have been popular with the more discerning adults, while the younger set leans toward pre-rolled joints, he said. -Summit Daily
See below for a breakdown of Aspen’s $730.4 million in retail sales last year
- Accommodations $216.7 million
- Restaurants & Bars $129.7 million
- Clothing $57.3 million
- Construction $57.2 million
- Food & Drug $56.1 million
- Miscellaneous $50 million
- Sports Equip/Clothing $47.9 million
- Utilities $43.4 million
- Luxury Goods $29.4 million
- Automobile $20.8 million
- Marijuana $11.3 million
- Liquor $10.5 million
- Total $730,414,351
Source: City of Aspen Finance Department