Legalization 2016 & The Age Factor

Posted by Bethany Gomez on

Which states are most likely to legalize recreational marijuana?  The short answer: the ones where it’s common for grown-ups to smoke pot. 

While the wording of and political forces behind the propositions in front of voters certainly help to determine the success or failure of a given initiative in a given year, the votes ultimately boil down to the will of the people.  Consumption rates are of course much higher amongst young adults ages 18-25 in all states but there is a strong correlation between states voting to legalize recreational and those with the highest rates of monthly marijuana usage amongst those 26 and up.  This isn’t a phenomenon that started after legalization – these rankings haven’t changed dramatically since before recreational markets opened in 2014.  According to NSDUH data, marijuana consumption rates vary wildly amongst this age group, from 12.5% of adults using in the past month in Colorado to only 3.3% in South Dakota. 

Source: SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2013, and 2014. Marijuana Use in the Past Month by Age Group and State

Source: SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2013, and 2014. Marijuana Use in the Past Month by Age Group and State

As the push towards legalization continues, these consumption rates offer a glimpse into what the future of recreational cannabis may look like.  It is quite promising for New England states, such as Maine, with recreational marijuana on the ballot this fall, and even those that don’t vote this year are likely to do so in the near term.

However, it does signal some uncertainty for other states voting in November, including California, Arizona and Nevada.  Only 7.1% of the over 25 crowd report consuming in California – a number that falls to just over 6% in Nevada, less than half the rate of Colorado.  In order to be successful in these states, legalization initiatives will need to make sure the economic benefits are clearly outlined and public safety concerns of nonusers addressed in order to win over their votes.    And don’t hold your breath on seeing legal marijuana in the south or plain states – only 3.3% of those 25 and over in South Dakota and 3.4% in Iowa report using in the past month, with similarly low prevalence rates seen across the two regions.


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