Denver is quickly becoming known as "The town that smells like weed." Many visitors report, and most residents acknowledge, that smelling the strong and unique odor of cannabis is a common experience when walking around the neighborhoods of central Denver. The culprit is usually a retail store or an indoor growing operation, but occasionally it's people smoking in a backyard or even in public.
Denver is the fastest growing big city in the country. Construction cranes dot the downtown skyline, a new light rail system has just begun service to the city's airport, and demand for housing is so strong that developers literally cannot build enough new homes to meet the need. Tourist visits are also at record highs, and state officials say it's not primarily attributable to cannabis tourism.
But there's no doubt that the newly-legal cannabis industry is contributing to Denver's boom. A quick search on the popular cannabis business-finding app Leafly shows cannabis stores dotted around the city like Starbucks, gas stations, or dry cleaners. Add grow sites and processing facilities onto those locations, and it is safe to say that cannabis is everywhere in Denver. Total cannabis sales in Colorado are expected to reach $1 billion, with much of that in the state's largest population center.
The benefits of legal cannabis to Colorado are also coming into focus, as revenue from sales shifts from drug cartels to local governments. Denver received $29 million in tax revenue from cannabis sales in 2015, adding the money to its general budget fund. But other nearby local governments have tracked and allocated cannabis tax revenue separately, enabling a concrete look at the impacts of this revenue stream.
The cannabis tax revenue flowing into local governments in Colorado is mostly from specific taxes imposed by the local government. Oregon law is similar, allowing local jurisdictions to impose up to a three percent tax on cannabis sales in addition to the state tax or to ban sales entirely. The legalization process in Denver is showing that counties allowing sales and collecting taxes on those sales are seeing important local benefits.