DENVER Consumers in Colorado bought more than 17 tons of recreational marijuana buds during the first year of the state's new retail market, but sales of medicinal pot still outstripped that at almost 50 tons, officials said on Friday.
In a national first, voters in Colorado and Washington state opted to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults in landmark twin ballots in 2012. The first retail stores opened in Colorado on Jan 1, 2014.
States such as Oregon and Alaska that have now also voted to legalize recreational pot, and others where lawmakers face proposals to do so, are watching the Colorado results closely.
State tax officials say sales hit nearly $700 million last year, with medical marijuana accounting for $386 million and recreational pot bringing in $313 million.
In its first annual report, the Colorado Department of Revenue's Marijuana Enforcement Division said 109,578 pounds (49.7 tons) of medical marijuana flowers were sold in 2014, while 38,660 pounds (17.5 tons) were sold on the retail market.
But recreational sales of pot-infused edible products, such as candies and cookies, outstripped medical sales by about 2.85 million units to 1.96 million, the report said.
It said 322 retail stores were licensed at the end of last year, up from about 200 six months earlier, while 833 licenses were issued to retail businesses in general, and 1,416 medical marijuana businesses were approved by the state.
It said medical businesses were cultivating around 300,000 marijuana plants on average each month during 2014, while the number of retail plants rose steadily from fewer than 25,000 in January to nearly 217,000 during December.
The report noted that more than twice as many Colorado jurisdictions had "completely opted out" of allowing either retail or medicinal pot businesses to operate than had permitted them.
Sixty-seven jurisdictions allow medical and retail licensees, 21 permit only medical, and five only retail, while 228 jurisdictions prohibit them both.
The state's marijuana laws have been challenged in federal court by neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma, which argue weed is smuggled across their borders, as well as by some Colorado residents who say the pot industry has hurt their families, businesses or property values.
Supporters say voters have chosen to take the trade out of the hands of criminals, and a Quinnipiac University Poll this week showed that 58 percent of Colorado residents support marijuana legalization, versus 38 percent against it.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Doina Chiacu)