Photo credit: Courtesy of New Frontier Data, www.newfrontierdata.com

It hardly seems possible, but it’s been more than six years since adults have been allowed to purchase and use cannabis in Colorado. In that time, citizens have taken enthusiastically to the newly legal product, and the state’s approach is one emulated by others.

Those are among the findings of New Frontier Data, which does research and analysis for the cannabis industry. New Frontier looked back at data it has accumulated during those years and posted a snapshot of legalization in our state after six years. It found that, in the past month, about one in five adults here use cannabis. About 878,708 adults, 81,610 of those registered as medical patients, purchased it in the last month.

Over six years, Colorado adults have bought 2 million pounds of cannabis, almost $8 billion in sales. That’s a lot of pot, and a fair amount of revenue that once went to cartels and criminals smuggling it into the U.S. is now going into state coffers.

One in five adults is about twice the national average, says John Kagia, chief knowledge officer at New Frontier Data. “Colorado has one of highest rates of use in the country,” he said in a recent interview. “While not surprising given how progressive the state is, it’s staggering in the context of the national debate. The national usage rate is 1 in 10. It’s also reflective of how deeply entrenched legal cannabis has become.”

I have always wondered about how many cannabis consumers there are and always suspected it’s higher than 1 in 10, but Kagia feels confident in the company’s numbers, which try to take all kinds of things into consideration, including honesty in surveys, when creating its models. He finds it more interesting that only one in five is partaking in Colorado’s legal, regulated environment.

New Frontier’s data suggest that about 80 percent of consumers are purchasing their product legally, a number he doesn’t expect to get much higher, because some people grow their own and are out of the supply chain, and others still have their own sources and don’t feel comfortable buying cannabis in a regulated retail atmosphere.

The way people are ingesting cannabis is definitely changing. Flower sales still dominate, taking up 43 percent of the market, with vaporizers accounting for 20 percent,  concentrates/extracts another 17 percent, edibles 14 percent, pre-rolls 4 percent, and topicals and tinctures 1 percent each.

But the amount of flower purchased dropped dramatically in 2019, from 436,000 pounds to 350,000 pounds, a trend that Kagia expects will continue. “We were struck by how much it fell in 2019,” Kagia says. “It affirms a dramatic shift from combustion-based to non-combustion-based, even amongst flower smokers, and shows a receptivity to other kinds of consumption. Edibles have seen the biggest increase.”

And, he says, it speaks more broadly to a slow but longer-term development as people rethink the communal aspects of cannabis use in the wake of COVID-19. We’ve already seen some cannabis companies adapt to the changing trends. Boulder-based Terrapin Care Station, for example, established the Terrapin Relief Package. The program offers discounts on individual-use and other products in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and offer relief to people experiencing financial hardship in the wake of the pandemic. The company also suspended 420 promotions this year in an effort to encourage people to stay home and not to celebrate in groups. Terrapin says, “Puff, puff — don’t pass,” and is offering discounts and giveaways on personal devices and products. They have also seen people gravitating to products like smaller joints, which the company calls Terrapins or Twigs, based on the price range of the product. 

Kagia thinks that it’s more likely that joints will be smaller and they won’t go from hand to hand to mouth as much as before. “It’ll probably be a very long time, if ever, that you’ll see passing the joint return like in pre-COVID era,” Kagia says.

He mentions that one part of the cannabis story that doesn’t get enough attention is that today Americans across the political spectrum are in support of legalization. “About two-thirds of Americans now support full legalization, and support for medical is now at 90 percent,” he says. “At a time when we can’t agree on the color of the sky in this country, cannabis seems to be one issue where there’s broad-based consensus.”

That’s a reflection of the disconnect between legislators and their general strong opposition relative to what is broad-based public support across all demographics. “Over the next couple of years, this issue will be more complex because of how many states have legalized cannabis,” he says.

Just the fact that one-fifth of the state’s adults are consuming is important to remember, he says. “For a host of reasons, Colorado will continue to be the focus of a broad-based national debate.”