People have been talking about the marijuana migration since 2013 as legalization came closer to a reality in Colorado. What’s interesting is that it’s still happening six years later. The difference today is that many people are moving for different reasons then back in 2013.
With adult-use cannabis now legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia and medical cannabis legal in 33 states plus Washington, D.C., the marijuana migration shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Marijuana migrants continue to completely uproot their lives and move to a state that has legalized medical or adult-use marijuana.
Let’s take a look at who is moving, why they’re moving, and where they’re going.
Who are the Marijuana Migrants?
Marijuana migrants come from all walks of life. States that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana have seen large numbers of people move from several key populations, including patients, parents, seniors, farmers, job seekers, executives and professionals, students, and off-the-grid dwellers.
People seeking relief for their illnesses and chronic conditions have been moving to states that allow medical marijuana for years. This migration began in states where medical marijuana was available first, such as Colorado. Today, 30 states and the District of Columbia have approved medical marijuana, so the migration by patients has slowed. It’s not over yet though as many patients still have to move to other medical marijuana states or recreational marijuana states because their home states haven’t approved the use of marijuana for their medical conditions yet.
Parents seeking help for their children’s illnesses and chronic conditions have also been moving to states that allow medical marijuana. Colorado was one of the first states to experience a significant influx of residents who came specifically to access medical marijuana for their children. Parents who made the move to Colorado referred to themselves as marijuana refugees back in 2013 as they left jobs and family members behind in order to get the medical marijuana their children needed.
Retirees have been moving to marijuana-friendly states for years. In 2014, the largest percentage of people who moved to Colorado were retirees. In total, one-third of people who moved to the Mountain West region (which includes Colorado) in 2014 went there specifically to retire. At the same time, dispensary owners reported that 50% or more of their customers were senior citizens.
Farmers who cultivate marijuana are also moving to find better growing and business conditions. This is particularly true in California where a six-year drought motivated many cannabis farmers to move their operations further north. Many California marijuana farmers headed to southern Oregon within the last couple of years where growing conditions are better. However, competition is also higher for farmers in the southern Oregon marketplace.
The marijuana gold rush brought a promise of new jobs to job seekers across the country. As new states came on board and began approving medicinal or adult-use marijuana, people who wanted to get into the industry flocked to those states. Regardless of whether or not all of those people found work in the marijuana industry, their migration certainly did have an effect on populations and local economies.
Executives and Professionals
It’s not unusual today for cannabis license holders and ancillary businesses to recruit executives and professionals from other industries. In recent years, executives from Apple, Facebook, and across Corporate America have made the move to the cannabis industry, and for many of them, that meant joining the marijuana migration.
As more states legalize adult-use and medical cannabis, the number of jobs increases. The next generation of workers sees this happening and many of them are actively looking for ways to gain the knowledge they need to land jobs in the future. There are already a variety of colleges offering cannabis courses and degree programs, and students are moving to states where these colleges are located to take advantage of new educational opportunities.
Interestingly, this first wave of marijuana migration for academic purposes will likely lead to a second wave when students graduate and secure jobs in states with legal marijuana and job openings.
Many marijuana-related businesses closed up shop in their home states when a different state passed new and more desirable medical or recreational marijuana laws. Making the move was worth the cost when these business owners weighed those costs against the risks of operating in states where their operations could be considered illegal.
Similarly, entrepreneurs seeking a chance to stake their claims in the marijuana market made the move to get in on the industry early. Today, those entrepreneurs and business owners keep coming.
Some people move to states that have approved recreational marijuana simply because they want to be able to access marijuana products any time they want them. In Park County, Colorado, an influx of off-the-grid dwellers (or nearly off-the-grid) settled in recreational vehicles and tents. In 2016, 287 marginal dwellings were counted in a single 50-mile loop of land.
Why is the Marijuana Migration Happening?
There isn’t a single catalyst to the marijuana migration. Instead, people are moving for a variety of reasons, but the four key reasons motivating the vast majority of marijuana migrants are freedom, medical needs, quality, and jobs and business opportunities.
For many people who move to marijuana-friendly states, the purpose of making the move is simply to have the freedom to use marijuana products whenever they want.
A large number of marijuana migrants have uprooted their lives and families in order to access marijuana for medicinal purposes.
People seeking higher quality, consistent marijuana products also move to states that have legalized adult-use marijuana.
Jobs and Business Opportunities
Workers and entrepreneurs who want to generate an income from the marijuana market are highly likely to move to marijuana-friendly states if their own state has yet to approve medical marijuana or legalize recreational marijuana or if their own state’s marijuana regulations are overly strict.
Where is the Marijuana Migration Taking People?
Today, the majority of people are leaving their home states and moving to a different state with friendlier medicinal or recreational marijuana laws. They might move to a state with medical marijuana laws that list their illnesses as covered conditions, or they might move to a state that has legalized marijuana for recreational use.
For example, in Colorado, a statistically significant increase in migration to the state began in 2011 according to The Pot Rush: Is Legalized Marijuana a Positive Local Amenity research study by Diego Zambiasi and Steven Stillman.
The report states that between 2005 and 2009, an average of 187,600 people moved to Colorado each year to access medical marijuana. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of people who moved to Colorado increased by 20,760 per year (an 11% increase).
After full legalization of marijuana in 2014, the number of people who moved to Colorado increased by 15,470 people per year (an additional 8.2%). As of 2015, marijuana legalization had increased Colorado’s overall population by 3.2%.
Will the Marijuana Migration Continue?
As long as marijuana is not legal in all 50 states, it’s highly likely the marijuana migration will continue as people seek medical, educational, and career opportunities. However, it will slow as more states legalize both medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana in the future.
Bottom-line, until the United States has an even field for people seeking freedom, help for their medical needs, quality, education, and jobs related to marijuana, migration will continue.
Originally published 8/7/18. Updated 7/26/19.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.