Marijuana has been legal enough long enough throughout most of the western United States, and dispensaries and farms are blooming everywhere. Regardless of your familiarity with pot, it can be a little tricky to navigate each state’s individual laws, regulations, and local customs.
Some of the information below is researched and cited. Some will be noted as personal recollections, perspectives, and experiences. This is intended to be an in-depth look at what our country’s cannabis culture currently looks like, and has over the last few years.
Welcome to the West Coast…which both you and I know is the best coast…
Medical vs Recreational
Here’s a breakdown of the 23 states currently allowing medical marijuana. The other 27 do not allow it in any form.
Each state has individual laws regarding pot, and the two most important to remember are Utah and Idaho. Cannabis is neither medically nor recreationally legal in either state, and visiting either state with a license plate from a recreational state is a bad idea. I’ve never had any trouble with my Arizona license plate.
In Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and California, medical marijuana is legal, but recreational usage is illegal on state land. Many Native American communities are looking into pot profitability in Arizona, as I heard they did in Washington state after D.C. went medically legal. The argument is D.C. is federal land, and if it’s allowed on federal land, it should be allowed on all federal land.
D.C. aside, recreational cannabis is legal to various degrees in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, though you can’t purchase pot in Oregon until sometime in 2016-ish because of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The OLCC also blocked the Cannabis Cup in Portland, for those wondering why the event, planned for July 2015, didn’t happen.
Who Can Grow, Buy, and Sell Weed
State by the state, there are slight differences in volume allowed, but for the most part anyone 18 and over (and, often, under 18, with parental permission) can grow a certain amount of pot for personal use. More often than not, these people are also allowed to share their supply with other patients. In order to do this, the person needs to have a medical marijuana card.
Colorado, Oregon, D.C., and Washington allow anyone over 21 to grow their own cannabis. In these states, businesses and services are popping up everywhere for anyone looking to explore buying, selling, using, or growing cannabis.
Differences Between Each State’s Products
The cost of a MMJ (not to be confused with MMA, which will get you in a lot of fights) card varies greatly by state, as does the cost for the permits to grow, sell, produce, etc. for various markets throughout the U.S. Despite these various differences, prices have generally stabilized, with medical pot in Arizona and Nevada selling for the same prices as overly-taxed Washington and Colorado recreational pot.
In California, Oregon, and Colorado, it pays to be an MMJ patient – free, high-quality pot is grown and produced in these states.
Arizona and New Mexico are similar to Utah and Idaho in law enforcement response to marijuana use. Being so close to the border, drugs are heavily penalized, in AZ, especially in Phoenix, where Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County’s infamous Tent City holds prisoners of both sides of the border and drug wars that plague the state. Even with a medical card, it’s best to only consume cannabis at home in AZ. Still, AZ is one of the few places you can still find “reggie weed” for affordable prices.
Whereas in Utah and Idaho, the people around you will likely call the cops, in Arizona people will just wonder how long it takes before the cops notice. Medical dispensaries constantly mislabel products, misrepresenting people’s alternative medicines as higher quality, and often diluting concentrates. Whatever won’t sell in Oregon, Washington, and California gets sent to Arizona and New Mexico to dry. Arizona’s underground market it huge, thanks to the proximity to Mexico.
In the Phoenix area, medical prices are often higher than highly taxed recreational prices in Denver and Seattle, and the quality is much lower. With two competing recreational initiatives racing for next year’s ballot, the medical dispensaries in the Grand Canyon state look to rake in profits better than practically any other state. Expect to pay $150 for a medical card, $30 per gram for flower, and $90-100 per gram for concentrates.
Arizona’s law enforcement is not lenient about marijuana, and being caught with it anywhere can get you in a lot of trouble you don’t need, even with a medical card.
Humbolt County in Northern California is known as the Emerald Triangle, as some of the nation’s best crops are grown here. Edibles for medical patients can achieve amazing levels (100mg+), and the pretentiousness of Southern California really influenced the quality of products being sold. You how all that stuff says its unsafe in California? That’s because they test more rigorously than the FDA and other government “QC” departments. This makes their products generally high quality (and sometimes expensive).
California is known for being the cheapest place to get a medical card, and the black market is generally open to customers with enough cash. The high cost of living hasn’t made California’s pot economy too outrageous, though water shortages across the state are affecting everything from marijuana to corn. Law enforcement reaction to cannabis varies greatly by who and where you are, but that’s pretty much everything in Cali.
In California, it’ll cost you $66 to get a medical card, and you’ll pay around $5-10 per gram for flower, and anywhere from $30-100 for a gram of concentrate, depending on where you get it. Prices are generally lowest through caregivers, and dispensaries offer a variety of giveaways and promotions to entice new customers.
In Oregon and Colorado, local organic farmers, entrepreneurs, and connoisseurs perfected the craft product market. Colorado led the nation in opening recreational stores, and with the strong tech market, they focused on cannabis-related technology before even Silicon Valley. Now we have WeedMaps, Leafly, and all sorts of tech companies focused entirely on serving the pot market.
Within Denver a huge bubble has been built – the infamous Green Mile downtown is littered with cannabis dispensaries of all kinds. Americans from all over the south and east flocked to Denver for the gold rush. In smaller cities and towns throughout the eastern and western slope of the Rockies, the laws are a bit more laid back for out-of-towners and locals alike.
There’s no need for a medical card in Colorado, but it’s still economically viable to do so, as it costs only $35 and greatly reduces the price. Drawing in more tourism than Washington and Oregon, Colorado is more accommodating to locals, so if you have proof you live in the area, you’ll get a lot of benefits. Medical weed costs about $3-10 per gram (depending on whether you’re a new patient, registered through them, etc.), while recreational pot is around $20-30 per gram. Concentrates cost $30 per gram for medical users, while recreational users will pay $50 minimum for locals.
Smoking in public is forbidden in Colorado, but you can get away with it more often than not. Law enforcement is relatively lax on cannabis these days in Colorado.
Las Vegas and Reno are the only places in Nevada you care about, and the only real difference is one is a little bigger, but the prostitution is a little more unlawful (though equally convenient). This entire state is run by the government and the gaming commission. Believe it or not, cannabis and gambling are two industries more tightly regulated than mortgages and insurance.
During the 2014 International Marijuana Business Conference last November, the Rio hotel wouldn’t allow any cannabis during the conference, and the clubs around Vegas hosting after-parties banned drugs. One even patted us down, taking a pipe from Doc Hudson and making him sign a waiver before we left.
In Nevada, it costs $150 to get a medical card, and both prices and quality currently matches Arizona. If recreationally legalized before AZ, expect quality in Las Vegas to skyrocket as prices stabilize. Law enforcement is strict on cannabis, though casinos pretty much self-regulate and you can get away with whatever you want in your hotel room, so long as you Febreeze the place when you’re done and don’t burn anything.
The state responsible for Tillamook dairy, Rogue brewery, and pretty much every vegan, organic, local, natural, gluten-free, food craze you’ve ever heard of has some very colorful characters. Generally nice, these people take their football and state love seriously. Law enforcement is generally lax so long as you’re being considerate of people around you.
Oregon recently decriminalized recreational cannabis, which took effect July 1, 2015. It’s now legal for anyone over 21 to grow, carry, give away, or even consume marijuana, but you can’t sell it just yet (again, thanks OLCC). In Oregon, expect to find a level of quality that is only matched by California. If you want to try the products that satisfy the world’s pickiest people, check out Oregon.
Oregon’s medical card is one of the most expensive in the country, at $200, though medical pricing is amazing. Oregon is one of many states where you can have a plant grown for you, grow your own, or give and receive cannabis for free to anyone over 21 (or 18 with a medical card). Portland, which shares a border with Vancouver, WA, also has the open availability of Washington pot less than 15 minutes away. Law enforcement is lax on cannabis in Oregon, though they’re always around the corner in Portland protecting and serving someone or another.
The government in Washington is much more intent on destroying the underground market than California, Colorado, or Oregon. Washington’s taxation and draconian laws rival even Arizona’s, and it borders Canada, where we’re the Mexico. Dispensaries and tech companies galore have taken root in Washington, and Seattle has activists keeping Hempfest alive.
Seattle is much more laid back about smoking in public than Denver or Portland. I’ll never forget lighting a cigarette outside the Seattle convention center for PAX Prime 2014, when I smelled weed and looked behind me to see a Microsoft rep in his 40 with a joint. He offered me a hit, gave me a joint, and said, “Hey – it’s Seattle.”
Though prices are high and everything is corporatized, Washington has great products that can rival Cali, Colorado, and Oregon. Vancouver, WA, across the river from Portland, has 5 recreational shops serving the metro area until recreational shops in Portland finally wade through the OLCC.
Expect to see Washington businesses thrive after decriminalization in all markets outside the aforementioned states. Initially high due to supply issues (paperwork stalled many initial applicants) Washington prices stabilized within the first year. a gram will cost you $20-3o for flower and $50-80 for concentrates, even with the high taxes. Shake, trim, and lower quality pot can be found in dispensaries for huge discounts for those with lower standards or interested in home extraction. An ounce can be had for as low as $120.
Regardless of which state you visit (outside Idaho and Utah, remember), the cannabis community is thriving. Coming up next is a pot-buying guide describing what cannabis products are available and what to look out for when purchasing marijuana.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured in Cannabis Now, Hardcore Droid, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Lifehack, and The Street.