CO: Marijuana Sales Overtake Alcohol In US City For First Time

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Sales of marijuana have overtaken alcohol in a city in Colorado, three years after the state became the first in the US to legalize recreational use of the drug.

Licensed vendors in the ski resort of Aspen raked in $11.3m (£8.2m) income from cannabis last year, compared to $10.5m (£7.6m) brought in by off-licenses.

It is believed to be the first time legal marijuana sales have eclipsed those of alcohol anywhere in the US.

Aspen’s first cannabis shop opened in March 2014, three months after legislation for taxing and regulating sales came into force across Colorado. By the next year the resort, which has a population of less than 7,000, had seven licensed distributors.

Aspen’s cannabis sales grew 16 per cent last year compared to 2016, when shops brought in $9.7m (£7m) from the drug, said the city’s finance department. The marijuana industry is the fastest growing of Aspen’s 12 retail sectors, according to figures in an end-of-year sales tax report.

Matt Kind, a Colorado businessman who hosts a podcast about the cannabis industry, told the Aspen Times visitors to the resort were “looking for something different”.

“I think it’s meaningful for a couple of reasons,” he said. “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 currently has six licensed cannabis vendors and five off-licenses.

Max Meredith, who runs one of the city’s marijuana shops, said the growth in sales “shows adults are open to change”.

He added: “There are new substitutes, and they can be handled responsibly. And perhaps there are a few less late-night fights.”

A study by Georgia State University last year found alcohol sales had tumbled 15 per cent in US states where medical marijuana had been legalized. Counties where cannabis could be legally obtained had 20 per cent lower alcohol sales than neighboring counties across state borders where it was still outlawed.