Three Out of Four Americans Live in State with Adult-Use or Medical Cannabis, Pew Research Center Finds

The majority of Americans now live in a state that has legalized adult-use or medical cannabis, a new Pew Research Center analysis indicates. In addition, nearly 80% of U.S. residents also have at least one cannabis dispensary in their county.

“According to our analysis, 74% of Americans live in a state where marijuana is legal for either recreational or medical use,” Caleb Keller, a communications assistant with Pew Research Center told High Times.

“Our analysis finds that around three-quarters of all dispensaries in the country are in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana,” the Pew Research Center reports. “Another 23% are in medical marijuana-only states. In fact, two of the top five states with the largest number of dispensaries—Oklahoma and Florida—allow the drug for medical use only.”

In addition, nearly 80% of Americans live in a county with at least one cannabis dispensary. Even for people that live in states and areas that don’t allow cannabis, dispensaries near state borders are also thriving, often next to states with less permissive cannabis laws.

The catalyst for change was the approval of California’s Prop. 215 in 1996, ushering in the era of state cannabis laws. (California is now home to a quarter of dispensaries in the U.S.) That number has since grown to 38 medical cannabis markets and more with limited forms of medical cannabis.

Pew Research released the following key findings:

54% of Americans live in a state where the recreational use of marijuana is legal—just a dozen years after Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow cannabis for recreational purposes.
74% of Americans live in a state where cannabis is legal for either recreational or medical use. California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996.
79% of Americans live in a county with at least one cannabis dispensary.
There are nearly 15,000 cannabis dispensaries in the United States. Dispensaries (businesses that sell cannabis products) are common on the West Coast and Northeast, but also in interior states like Michigan, Oklahoma and Colorado.
California has far more dispensaries than any state: 3,659 at the time of this analysis, more than double the amount in the second-highest ranking state. A quarter of all cannabis dispensaries in the U.S. are in California, and nearly all Californians (99.5%) have a dispensary in their county. Los Angeles County alone has more dispensaries (1,481) than any state other than California itself.
Oklahoma has the most cannabis dispensaries per capita of any state: 36 dispensaries for every 100,000 residents.

Pew based updated cannabis laws on data from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and all information is current as of February 2024. According to NORML, there are now 24 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized adult-use cannabis as of February 2024, and another 14 states allow medical cannabis.

A remaining 12 states have legalized limited access to cannabis products that contain little to no THC, i.e. things like CBD oil. Finally, 27 states across all levels of legalization have decriminalized adult-use cannabis.

For population estimates at the state, county and census tract levels, Pew Research relied on the U.S. Census Bureau—specifically, Table B01003 of the American Community Survey’s 5-year estimates for 2019. 

County-level estimates include counties and county equivalents (such as Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska). For median household incomes at the state and census tract levels, we used Table S1901 of the same publication.

For information about cannabis dispensaries, including geolocation details, Pew researchers used data provided by SafeGraph, which curates information about millions of places of interest around the globe

Another interesting finding is that state borders do little to stop people from getting access to cannabis: one in every five dispensaries in the U.S. is located within 20 miles of a state border. And 29% of these border dispensaries adjoin a neighboring state with less permissive cannabis laws.

Household incomes in areas with high concentrations of dispensaries varied depending on the state, dispelling the myth that they thrive in low-income areas. 

“In four states that have legalized marijuana for both recreational and medical purposes—Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia—median annual household incomes are at least $20,000 lower in areas with high concentrations of dispensaries than areas in the state with low concentrations of dispensaries,” Pew Research Center reports. “In New Hampshire and New York, by contrast, median household incomes are around $20,000 or more higher in areas with many dispensaries than in areas with few dispensaries.”

The findings show how state cannabis laws have spread since the first statewide law establishing a medical cannabis market in 1996.

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