As the cannabis industry in Colorado has grown significantly since 2014, the question of how many marijuana dispensaries are there in Colorado comes up time and again from both locals and visitors to the state. Visitors to Denver, in particular, can often be heard to remark that there seem to be more dispensaries in Denver than even the ubiquitous Starbucks.
We have the numbers, so let’s take a look at some of the latest statistics according to the Colorado Department of Revenue – Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) as of October 1, 2019.
As of October 1, 2019:
Medical Marijuana Business License Numbers:
- 449 Centers
- 479 Cultivations
- 221 Infused Product Manufacturers
- 12 Testing Facilities
- 7 Operators
- 9 Transporters
- 1 Research and Development and Research Cultivation
Retail Marijuana Businesses License Numbers:
- 572 Stores
- 687 Cultivations
- 287 Product Manufacturers
- 13 Testing Facilities
- 8 Operators
- 13 Transporters
- 1,685 Owners
- 13,685 Key Employee Licensees
- 25,575 Support Employee Licensees
Denver and Colorado Metro Area Comparisons
Looking at Denver, there are 179 Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the city of Denver and a total of 250 in the greater Metro area. In addition, there are 172 Retail/Recreational Marijuana Dispensaries.in Denver and a total of 196 in the greater Metro area. In total there are 446 dispensaries in the Denver metro area compared to a total of 1,021 medical and recreational dispensaries across the state.
While Colorado Springs has the next largest number of medical marijuana dispensaries with 122, it is interesting to note that they have no recreational dispensaries. This is due to the fact that each municipality has the option to determine how legalization fits into their individual communities. Colorado Springs has long been one of the more conservative cities in the state. Boulder County has 19 medical marijuana dispensaries and Pueblo and Pueblo West share 17 medical dispensaries. Ft. Collins houses 13 medical dispensaries.
Boulder and Boulder County are second only to Denver with 44 recreational marijuana dispensaries. Southern Colorado also has an active cannabis industry with Pueblo and Pueblo West operating 38 recreational dispensaries and Trinidad housing 27 retail dispensaries. Fort Collins and Durango have 12 and 13 recreational retail outlets respectively.
Cannabis Industry Growth in Colorado
It is not too surprising that the predominant cannabis growth in the state is in the recreational area. The number of recreational grow and cultivation licenses have grown to approximately 400% versus medical grow and cultivation licenses currently hovering around 5% since 2014. Obviously, recreational dispensaries cater to a much broader audience easily explaining the growth disparity.
Location, Location, Location
Beyond pure statistics, another indicator of the growth and health of the cannabis industry in Colorado is a simple observation of the dispensary storefronts. In the early days of cannabis legalization, many of the dispensaries were housed in abandoned gas stations and older strip malls. They were housed wherever they could find space. Additionally, they were looking for appropriate and beneficial locations drawing the most traffic. Many of these older and unoccupied locations fit the bill nicely. Since 2014 that has changed rather dramatically. Many of the dispensary companies have expanded into much plusher digs. Sometimes this has occurred through renovations, newer locations, and in some instances the hiring of award-winning retail designers. In a number of Denver-area dispensaries, you are greeted by your budtenders or bud mistresses in facilities, though smaller, that compare very favorably with Apple or Microsoft retail stores.
Comparisons to Popular Retailers
It’s kind of fun to peer a little closer into the number comparisons of dispensaries in Colorado to other retail outlets such as the aforementioned Starbucks. Though the number of Starbucks changes somewhat frequently with closings, relocations, and new openings, there are currently over 80 Starbucks in the city of Denver and a little over 150 Starbucks locations in the greater Denver metro area. The observation that, “There seems to be more dispensaries in Denver than Starbucks,” is indeed accurate and by a rather large margin if you include both medical and recreational dispensaries. Comparing recreational marijuana retailers to Starbucks the numbers are surprising close… 150 Starbucks to 172 licensed recreational marijuana businesses in the greater Denver metro area.
Besides legalized cannabis, Colorado is nationally known for its craft beers and breweries. The craft beer industry has exploded all over the country in the past several years. Estimates are that there will be over 8,000 breweries in the United States by the end of 2019. Colorado is certainly one of the states at the top of the list. In October Denver hosted the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). GABF was established in 1982 and first held in Boulder.
Due to the rapid growth of the craft beer industry the festival was moved to Denver in 1984. Today it is the largest beer festival in the United States. In 1982, 24 breweries participated featuring 47 beers and 800 attendees. In 2019 attendance was 60,000 featuring 800 breweries at the festival offering over 4000 beers. Competition is fierce at the festival with 2,295 breweries from all over the country participating. The competing breweries submitted 9,497 beers in the competition.
Because of the explosive growth of both the cannabis industry and the craft brewery business in Colorado, comparing the numbers of dispensaries to craft breweries in Denver and craft breweries in Colorado is perhaps more interesting and a better gauge of growth for two rapidly growing businesses.
There are currently 72 craft breweries in Denver. This compares with 172 retail/recreational dispensaries in Denver. Additionally, there are over 400 craft breweries in the state of Colorado. As noted earlier, there are presently 572 retail marijuana business licenses issued statewide. Medical marijuana dispensaries are a slightly different category and not included in this particular comparison.
Suffice it to say, the cannabis industry in Colorado is both healthy and significant. The same can be said for the craft brewery industry in the state.
So, now when friends and visitors ask, “How many recreational and medical dispensaries are there in Denver and the state of Colorado?” you have the answers. Likewise, when discussing a comparison of the number of dispensaries in Denver or Colorado to Starbucks or craft breweries in Denver or Colorado, the current stats are here. Note, however, that the growth is dynamic, and the numbers are constantly changing.
While medical marijuana business licenses for dispensary centers and cultivation has slowed dramatically in recent years, the industry continues to expand rapidly on the recreational side. Is there a growth ceiling on the recreational side of the industry? As more states legalize either medical and/or recreational marijuana, it will be interesting to monitor what impact on growth there may be on the industry in Colorado in the future.
What will be the impact be if cannabis is legalized on the federal level? How may national expansion affect revenue and taxes in Colorado? Will the Colorado tourist industry suffer, and to what extent may it be adversely affected? What effect will possible future federal laws and testing requirements have on the cannabis industry within the state? Could the possibility of national legalization help or hinder growth in Colorado? The answers to these questions are open to much speculation. While the future will reveal itself, today the cannabis industry in Colorado is solid and growing daily.