California’s experiment with marijuana legalization is proving extremely popular, but high taxes mean consumers still have a robust appetite for criminal-market cannabis, a new industry report claims.
Eighty-four percent of Californians say they are “very satisfied” with the legal market. However, 18 percent of California marijuana consumers bought cannabis from an unlicensed business or supplier in the last three months, according to the analysis, and say they will do so again as long as taxes remain high.
The report, “The High Cost of Legal Cannabis,” was published on Wednesday by Eaze, a San Francisco-based software company that facilitates marijuana deliveries.
It is also the first such analysis to be published following disappointing, lower-than-expected sales figures in the first few months of California’s legalization era.
California voters legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over on Election Day 2016, and sales at licensed retail outlets began on January 1, 2018.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) estimated that excise tax revenue from marijuana sales would total $175 million. The state collected $34 million in excise tax revenue during the first quarter of 2018, leading the state Legislative Analyst Office to predict a lower haul for the year.
With sales and cultivation taxes included, the state collected $60.9 million in marijuana-related tax revenue through the first quarter of 2018, the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration reported in May.
Marijuana purchases in the state are subject to a 15 percent excise tax as well as state sales taxes. Localities like cities and counties can also apply a local tax. With these, on top of a $9.25-per-ounce cultivation tax, taxes on legal cannabis in the state can reach 40 percent or more—the highest in the United States.
And most cities in the state ban commercial marijuana sales outright. According to the San Jose Mercury News, retail cannabis sales are allowed in only one out of every seven cities.
“High prices, taxes, and lack of access to legal cannabis continues to fuel a thriving illicit market,” the Eaze report’s executive summary says. “Simply stated, California has done a good job of telling consumers that cannabis is legal but has a long way to go in making it easy to get safe, legal and affordable cannabis.”
Other findings in Eaze report include:
*Reducing cannabis taxes by 5 percent “could drive 23 percent of illicit market supporters into the legal market.”
*Properly labeled and tested cannabis is popular with 85 and 75 percent of consumers, respectively.
*The most common consumer complaints were high taxes (47 percent), the inability to use credit or debit cards for payment (36 percent) and overpriced products (32 percent).
*The average cannabis user in California is 38 years old. Eighty-five percent of Eaze users are college-educated, and 33 percent are parents.
*And nine out of 10 marijuana consumers say that cannabis has a medical application.
Eaze’s analysis was based on 1,750 online surveys submitted by its users between July 6 and July 12.
Marijuana Banking Bill Gains Momentum With One-Third Of Senate Now Signed On
The most cannabis-friendly Congress in history is back from its August recess, and lawmakers are already making key moves to advance marijuana reform legislation. The immediate focus is on a proposal to let banks serve cannabis companies without fear of being punished by federal regulators—with House leaders announcing that a floor vote is expected by the end of the month.
On Monday, the Senate version of the marijuana financial services bill got its 33rd cosponsor—Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN)—meaning that virtually a third of the chamber is now formally signed onto the legislation, counting its main sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Feds Warn More CBD Companies Over Health Claims
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent letters on Tuesday ordering three companies to stop making unfounded health claims about their CBD products.
“It is illegal to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support such claims,” FTC said in a press release about the action.
Though the agency did not name the three companies that received letters, it described their claims.
One firm said on its website that CBD “works like magic” to relieve “even the most agonizing pain” and has been “clinically proven” to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, cigarette addiction and colitis.
Another company claimed CBD is a “miracle pain remedy” that can also treat treat autism, anorexia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), stroke, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and AIDS.
A third CBD provider sold cannabidiol-infused gummies that it said can treat “the root cause of most major degenerative diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, cancer, asthma, and a wide spectrum of autoimmune disorders,” according to FTC.
FTC sends warning letters to companies advertising their CBD-infused products as treatments for serious diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis: https://t.co/r4TGcRbbRv pic.twitter.com/QAJCNn8oPC
— FTC (@FTC) September 10, 2019
The agency is directing the companies to reply within 15 days with information about steps they have taken to address potential violations of the law, which could lead to injunctions and orders to refund money to consumers.
The latest actions follow several other steps the federal government has taken to push back on marketplace claims about CBD.
In March, FTC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) teamed up to send a previous round of letters to three companies for potentially making false or unsubstantiated health claims about their CBD products. In July, FDA issued a warning letter to Curaleaf Inc. about what the agency said were “unsubstantiated claims” the company made about cannabidiol products on its website.
Hemp and its derivatives, including CBD, were legalized under the Farm Bill that was enacted late last year but FDA has not yet created a process to approve the use of the compound in food products or dietary supplements.
Preliminary research has indicated that CBD has the potential to help people struggling with substance use disorders involving alcohol, opioids and stimulants, but to date it has only been federally approved to treat severe seizure disorders in the form of the prescription medication Epidiolex.
“Before making claims about purported health effects of CBD products, advertisers need sound science to support their statements,” FTC wrote in a blog post. “The takeaway tip for anyone in the industry is that established FTC substantiation standards apply when advertisers make health-related representations for CBD products.”
A separate FTC consumer advisory urges people to “talk with your doctor before you try a healthcare product you find online” and “find out about the product’s risks, side effects, and possible interactions with any medications you’re taking.”
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Colorado Sold Twice As Much Recreational Marijuana As Medical Cannabis Last Year
The share of legal marijuana sales in Colorado that came from the recreational market in 2018 significantly outpaced those from the medical market, according to an annual government report released on Monday.
In fact, there were about two times as many adult-use sales of flower compared to medical cannabis purchases—a new milestone for the state.
Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) said that 288,292 pounds of bud were sold last year for recreational purposes, while 147,863 pounds were sold to medical marijuana patients. For comparison, in 2017, recreational consumers purchased 238,149 pounds and 172,994 pounds were sold to patients.
That means the recreational-medical gap increased 73 percent in one year.
In part, the trend can be attributed to the ongoing expansion of Colorado’s adult-use cannabis market since the state’s first recreational shops opened in 2014. Medical cannabis sales were notably higher than recreational sales in that first year of implementation, with just 38,660 pounds coming from the adult-use market and 109,578 pounds being sold to medical patients.
Medical and adult-use sales were roughly even in 2016. But by 2017, recreational sales accounted for 58 percent of the market. And last year, they represented 66 percent of the market.
MED also found that licenses for recreational marijuana facilities increased by three percent (47 licenses) while medical business licenses declined by eight percent (77 licenses).
“Data collection continues to be a priority at the MED,” Jim Burack, director of the program, said in a press release. “This ongoing analysis and compilation of industry information helps inform the public and contributes to our outreach efforts to stakeholders.”
The report also showed that the adult-use market is the primary destination for individuals purchasing edibles. Eighty-six percent of edible sales came from recreational consumers. And from July-December 2018, 75 percent of cannabis plants were cultivated for adult use.
The market shift isn’t unique to Colorado. An Associated Press analysis from June detailed how states across the country that have established recreational marijuana programs are seeing the number of medical patients decline as more consumers transition to the adult-use market.
That may be partially explained by individuals who sought out medical cannabis recommendations choosing not to renew their registration after recreational marijuana shops became available. To that point, a recent study found that many customers at recreational dispensaries are consuming cannabis for the same reasons that registered patients do, such as to alleviate pain and sleep issues.
The concern for some advocates, however, is that adult-use legalization could drive up prices for patients, or leave them with fewer product options tailored to therapeutic use as demand for high-THC products increases.
“When states pass adult-use legalization we are seeing many patients leave the strict controls of the medical programs,” David Mangone, director of government affairs at Americans for Safe Access, told Marijuana Moment. “Patients must already pay out of pocket for cannabis, and any added cost like a registration fee for a medical card or renewal can make the process of obtaining medicine extremely burdensome and costly.”
“States like Colorado must continue to provide adequate benefits to patients to ensure the medical program remains robust,” he said.
Mangone added that “as states pass adult-use programs it is important that they continue to understand and appreciate the needs of patients.”
“A common frustration for many is not what happens in terms of access to cannabis, but rather what happens in terms of access to specific products. Products and flower with a high-THC content have a wider market appeal, but may not necessarily benefit the existing medical market.”
That said, one interesting finding from this latest MED report is that medical and recreational consumers alike seem increasingly interested in concentrates, with the units of such products sold to both nearly doubling from 2017 to 2018. Concentrates are sold at a much higher rate in the adult-use market, but the potent products evidently have growing appeal across the board.
Gov. Jared Polis (D) recently celebrated tax earnings from marijuana sales, touting the fact that the state has amassed more than $1 billion in cannabis revenue that has been allocated to various social programs.
And the marijuana market is continuing to evolve in state. Polis signed legislation in May allowing for home deliveries of cannabis products as well as social consumption sites.
The governor said last month at a conference with governors from around the country that the new delivery law could help mitigate impaired driving.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.