Colorado's 37 newly-legal marijuana dispensaries got a bit of headrush during their first week of business, taking in a combined total of about $5 million in sales, according to early figures provided to The Huffington Post.
If the state's projections prove accurate, that number is going to get a lot higher before the year's out. Lawmakers expect the newly legal industry to generate more than $578 million in sales its first year, garnering the state $67 million in new tax revenues. Colorado's marijuana law imposes a 15 percent sales tax on every purchase, with revenues slated to fund public schools. An additional 10 percent levy on dispensary profits will finance industry-wide regulations.
Despite the massive influx of money, all of it has been paid in cash thanks to the banking industry's hesitance to work with marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized the drug. Because the federal government still considers it to be a Schedule 1 substance -- on the same level as LSD and heroin -- pot purveyors are also barred from taking advantage of tax breaks that would otherwise apply to business expenses.
The U.S. Department of Justice is taking a largely hands-off approach to the budding trade and allowing the states to experiment with regulations similar to those applied to alcohol. A memo sent to U.S. attorneys last August (PDF) explained that the DOJ is "committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way." It adds that states with strict regulatory schemes that protect public safety and keep drugs away from minors would be allowed to proceed without legal challenge to the law on federal supremacy grounds.
The DOJ's position is also consistent with the wishes of a majority of Americans, if recent polls are to be believed. About 55 percent of respondents told CNN this week that marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol. Nearly three-fourths said that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, and a further 64 percent said they believe that tobacco is more dangerous than marijuana.
The majority's opinion is not ill-informed, either: The British medical journal Lancet ranked alcohol in 2010 as the most dangerous recreational drug available today, even more harmful than heroin and crack cocaine.
The state of Washington is expected to join Colorado in allowing adults to legally purchase marijuana this June.