It's no secret that public support for marijuana legalization is on the rise, but there's common ground where even prohibitionists can sometimes meet supporters of recreational pot: the medical benefits of the plant. So far, 23 states have passed legislative measures to legalize medical marijuana, and 16 have legalized its non-psychoactive component, cannabidiol (CBD), also for medical purposes – meaning that over half of the country has legalized some form of cannabis.
But how many people are actually benefiting from these laws? Colorado and California are both known for the relative ease with which a patient can attain a medical marijuana recommendation, but some states, such as New Jersey and New York, have shorter, stricter lists of qualifying debilitating conditions and require more verification, making their MMJ registries noticeably shorter.
In all, 1,246,170 Americans were enrolled in state medical marijuana programs (including the one in Washington, D.C.) as of March 1, according to a recent ProCon.org study. Most of the states with high numbers of patients are the usual suspects that have already legalized recreational marijuana – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – but some of the others that rank up there might surprise you.
With the help of West420 and Americans for Safe Access and data gathered from state regulatory departments and the Marijuana Policy Project, we've ranked the top ten states with the most medical marijuana patients. (Patient numbers are from the latest reports from state registries unless otherwise noted; numbers from California and Maine, which have voluntary patient registration, and Washington, which doesn't require patients to register with the state, are estimates from the Marijuana Policy Project.) And they are:
10. Nevada – 15,238 (as of February 2016)
Nevada is quickly becoming a haven for medical marijuana users. Expected to pass a recreational legalization measure this November, the state also tied New Mexico with the best grade (B+) on the Americans for Safe Access 2015 state report card for medical cannabis access, with high marks for functionality and access to medicine.
9. Massachusetts — 20,690 (as of February 2016)
One of the few states on the East Coast to embrace cannabis on a wide scale, Massachusetts is another state that could vote on recreational marijuana this November. Despite only having passed in 2012, the Massachusetts medical marijuana program tied second with Maryland on the ASA report card, with a B grade.
8. New Mexico – 22,033 (as of February 2016)
Although the New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Amendment that would've legalized recreational use failed to make the cut for New Mexico's ballot in November, the state is praised for having an amenable attitude toward adding to qualifying conditions and easy access to medicine, according to its B+ grade on the ASA report card.
7. Maine – 24,377 (MPP estimate as of March 2016)
With the highest estimate for medical marijuana patients on the East Coast, Maine is one of five states that legalized medical marijuana before the year 2000 and has slowly grown its patient pool since. Tied for third in ASA's report card with a B-, Maine's medical marijuana program gained national attention last November for granting New Hampshire's lone medical marijuana patient – a terminally ill woman who expected to pass away before her state's medical marijuana program was running – access to its dispensaries after she won a court ruling allowing her to do so.
Keep reading for more states on the list.