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Marijuana demand in Colorado may be nearly a third higher than previously estimated

Tyler Williams of Blanchester, Ohio, selects marijuana strains to purchase in Colorado. (Theo Stroomer/Getty)

Adult Coloradans consume roughly 121 metric tons of marijuana a year, according to a new Colorado Department of Revenue study that estimates demand at 31 percent more than a recent projection and virtually double some outside estimates.

The study, released this week, sought to ascertain how often and how much pot is consumed by the state’s adult residents and visitors. What they found was that there are 485,000 regular adult users of marijuana, a group that accounts for roughly 9 percent of the state’s forecast 2014 population. Toss in adult residents who have used the drug in the past year and estimates of those under 21 years old who have used in the past year and that share rises to more than 15 percent of the population.

The study is unique in that, according to the authors, it’s the first to look at both demand and supply. Measuring supply is convenient because sales data is recorded, but it leaves out the significant role of black market, home-grown and imported marijuana. Measuring demand gives a better sense of how much of the drug is in use.

“While the amount of underground and illegal production is expected to decline significantly, some level is believed to exist to date,” the authors write. “Therefore, in order to determine the total market for licensed and unlicensed marijuana, a demand approach is more practical.”

To measure demand, the researchers first estimated the number of users and then the amount consumed by each over a given period of time. But that just gives an estimate of how often people are using, not how much. To measure demand, they relied on surveys. And because there are myriad ways to consume pot, each with varying potency, they measured by dried flower weight.

Here’s a tour of some of the report’s conclusions about marijuana use in Colorado, seven months after legal sales began there:

About 9 percent of adults are projected to use marijuana at least once a month

The state predicts that 485,000 adults consume the drug at least once a month, translating to about 9 percent of the forecast population for the year. Another 201,000 reported using it in the past year, roughly 3.8 percent of the population. And while the report focuses on adult use, the report did mention an estimated 184,000 residents under 21 years old who have used the drug within the past year.

Frequency of pot use is concentrated at the extremes

Adult residents either smoke pot (relatively) few times a month or nearly every day—there are few in the middle.

More than half of all adult resident users consume the drug in some form fewer than six times a month. (More than 1 in 4 consume less than once a month.) At the same time, about 1 in 5 users are near or at daily consumption.

Frequent users consume the vast majority of marijuana

While those roughly daily users account for just a fifth of the user population, they consume fully two thirds of the product.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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