Colorado Amendment 64: How it Changed the Cannabis Landscape

by Aly Payne,

Monumental. Landmark. Watershed. Historic.

When we hear about the cannabis “victories” in the 2016 elections, these words tend to get a lot of use.


They’re not just hyperbole. 4 states—Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota—passed measures to legalize medical marijuana in November 2016, while voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada passed recreational cannabis initiatives.

As of October 2017, 29 states have approved medical marijuana use, and 8 states plus Washington, D.C., allow recreational cannabis use by adults 21 and over.

And with just a little over a year until the 2018 election, 9 more states are already on track to place cannabis reform initiatives on the ballot.

But as the balance of prohibition states dwindles and legal cannabis use continues its march to the mainstream, it’s important to look back and recognize a truly pioneering initiative that helped spur the sweeping changes that have taken place since: Colorado Amendment 64.

2012: The Year of Rec

Though medical marijuana programs have existed in the U.S. since 1996, it wasn’t until November 6, 2012, that Colorado and Washington became the first states to officially legalize the production, distribution, sale and use of cannabis recreationally. However, Colorado was the first to actually open rec dispensary doors on January 1, 2014.

Amendment 64 in Colorado set up a framework for cannabis to be regulated and taxed in the same fashion as tobacco and alcohol. But revenue generated from cannabis taxation would soon eclipse those other industries and prove to be an unprecedented boon for the state’s funds.

Economic Impacts

Financial forecasters knew that recreational cannabis would be a tax revenue machine, but they never could have predicted the overall economic impact Colorado has seen in such a short period of time.

Just this past July, total tax revenue generated since recreational marijuana sales began in 2014 broke the $500 million mark.

That’s half a billion dollars.

July also set another Colorado cannabis record: monthly recreational sales surpassed the $100 million mark for the first time ever.

Roughly 51% of that tax revenue has been put back into the state’s education system, while the rest is divvied up amongst various state agencies and programs.

Rec sales have had a ripple effect on other Colorado industries, too. Tourism, real estate and the job market have all seen improvements since 2014. In fact, it’s estimated that legal pot has boosted Colorado’s overall economy by about $2.4 billion.

Regulation and Compliance

Of course, being the first state to sell cannabis recreationally didn’t come without its challenges. Other states and even other countries watched Colorado closely to see just how it would handle regulation of cannabis cultivation, wholesale and retail and the prevention of diversion into the black market.

Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), an arm of the state’s Department of Revenue, was tasked with figuring out just how to monitor the production, movement and sale of the new cash crop.

The MED’s solution? METRC, short for Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance. METRC is Colorado’s official seed-to-sale tracking system that was developed by software manufacturer Franwell.

In fact, Green Bits worked with Franwell to refine the METRC APIs for implementation across the state.

Paving the Way for the Nation

Colorado’s cannabis success hasn’t just been good for the state—it’s been a shining example to the rest of the nation that cannabis prohibition just doesn’t make sense fiscally or morally.

Amendment 64 has not only given Colorado a huge economic boost. It’s also inspired innovation, creativity and a new generation of entrepreneurship. Colorado-based companies are continually advancing cannabis technology and working to solve ongoing industry problems, such as financial institutions’ aversion to marijuana money.

A64 has also provided other states with a working model for their own recreational programs and demonstrated just how powerful an economic driver cannabis can be.

Colorado is the proof that a state can implement a successful, responsible marijuana program that includes a robust plan for preventing interstate diversion, illegal use by minors and traffic fatalities.

And, of course, Amendment 64 has helped inspire the meteoric shift in Americans’ opinions on cannabis legalization.

While we hope to see more ground gained for cannabis legalization in next year’s election, we think it important to acknowledge the truly monumental passage of Amendment 64 as we approach its five-year anniversary.

We can’t wait to see where the next five years take us.