It is official. The chic ski resort of Aspen has become the first city in the U.S. where cannabis sales have eclipsed alcohol. Licensed vendors collected $11.3 million (about €8 million) from cannabis sales in 2017. That compares with the $10.5 million from alcohol receipts.
Aspen’s first legal cannabis shop opened in March 2014, three months after recreational sales began in Colorado. One year later, the city, which has a permanent citizenry of fewer than 7,000 people, had seven outlets. That has subsequently declined by one (to six). However, that is still more than the five alcohol stores within city limits.
What is it about Aspen that seems to have tipped the scales? In part, it might be the altitude. According to local experts, tourists need time to adjust to thinner air. During that time they also tend to stay away from alcohol. Cannabis is the perfect substitute.
However, while Aspen may be first “greened” city, it is unlikely it will be the last. A study by Georgia State University last year found that alcohol sales tumbled 15% in every U.S. state where medical marijuana was made legal. The results are also revealing when it comes to recreational reform. In every county where recreational cannabis is for sale on a state level, alcohol receipts are 20% lower than those counties in states where cannabis is still illegal.
According to a recent report to the Aspen City Council, cannabis sales continue to account for one of the highest growth industries in town by retail sales. In the month of December 2017, the only industry which eclipsed the gains of the cannabis industry was the automobile industry. In 2016, marijuana sales jumped 16% in the city, making this the largest overall annual increase of the city’s 12 retail sectors. Alcohol sales have remained flat.