Colorado’s monthly marijuana sales top $100 million

Dylan Stableford
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FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2014 file photo, Aileen Burger loads an oral syringe with cannabis-infused oil used to treat her 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who suffers from severe epilepsy, at her home in Colorado Springs, Colo. Parents of Utah children with severe epilepsy are cheering a new state law that allows them to obtain the extract, which comes from a strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web, and is believed to help with seizures, but it's unclear how and when they'll procure it. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Marijuana sales blazed past the $100 million mark for the first time in August, the Denver Post reported over the weekend.

According to sales data from Colorado’s Department of Revenue released Friday, sales of recreational pot topped $59.2 million for the month, while medical marijuana dispensaries pulled in $41.4 million, for a combined $100.6 million — the highest monthly total since legal recreational cannabis sales began there in January 2014.

“It means that $100 million is going to licensed, taxpaying businesses, creating jobs and helping to build new schools,” Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Yahoo News, “instead of going to cartels and drug dealers — as is the case in the 46 states that don’t regulate marijuana.”

It was also the seventh time in eight months that marijuana sales in Colorado have exceeded the previous month’s total. In May, combined recreational and medical sales ($74.31 million) fell marginally from April ($74.64 million).

In Washington state, retail pot sellers had been enjoying month-to-month jumps until July, when revenues from recreational marijuana were $31.1 million, or down about 6 percent from June, according to data from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board. Despite the dip, Washington’s recreational pot sales are on pace to surpass $300 million this year.

And in Oregon, where legal recreational sales began earlier this month, pot retailers pulled in an estimated $11 million — or more than double the $5 million worth of recreational marijuana sold in Colorado the first week it was legal to do so.

Combined, marijuana sales in Colorado, Washington and Oregon will easily surpass $1 billion in 2015 — and may hit $1 billion in Colorado alone.

So where do they stash all that cash? For budding ganjapreneurs, cannabusiness owners and lawmakers from those states, that’s the billion-dollar question currently facing the marijuana industry.

“I’ve gone through at least eight banks,” Shaun Gindi, owner of Colorado’s Compassionate Pain Management, told Bloomberg Business.

“We’re on our 15th bank right now,” Andrew DeAngelo, director of operations at Harborside Health Center in Oakland, told CNBC in June.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, just 220 of the more than 7,600 banks and credit unions in the country accept so-called “cannabis cash” because marijuana still violates federal law.

Legal marijuana sellers have been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on security, protecting their cash-heavy businesses with armed guards, armored vehicles and high-tech vaults — sometimes transporting their cash in duffel bags as if it were marijuana in states where it’s still illegal.

“The federal government and these banking laws are making it so that people have to walk around with tens of thousands of dollars in their businesses, in their cars, in their homes,” Michael Julian, CEO of MPS International, a marijuana security company, told Bloomberg. “[It’s] putting these people in danger.”

In July, Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced a billbacked by their colleagues in Colorado — that would give legal marijuana businesses access to banking services. Similar legislation was introduced in the House, and both bills were referred to subcommittees for review.

In the meantime, several private organizations have stepped in to try and help. One of them, CannaNative, is attempting to link legal marijuana businesses with the American Indian banking system “to use the expertise gained from decades of managing casinos,” Bloomberg reports.

But Riffle doesn’t see that as a long-term solution.

“I think rather than finding a way to work around broken and outdated federal marijuana laws, Congress needs to simply fix the law,” Riffle said, pointing to a pair of bills — the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act and the CARERS Act — that have stalled because Republican chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees have not held hearings on them despite support from a bipartisan majority.

“Apparently a century of failure isn’t enough,” Riffle said, “so they want to give marijuana prohibition a few more decades.”