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.
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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.
6. Oregon – 77,620 (as of January 2016)
One of four states to legalize medical marijuana and infamous for its low prices for flower – $202.14 for a high-quality ounce versus $241.17 in Colorado – Oregon has long been known as a haven for outdoor marijuana and alternative medicine practices. Despite prohibiting out-of-state medical cards in 2016 (it was previously the only state to allow them), Oregon's medical marijuana program is one of the oldest in the country and ties for third in the ASA report card, gaining high marks for its patient-arrest protection and wide range of qualifying conditions.
5. Arizona – 89,405 (as of January 2016)
Traditionally conservative Arizona makes a surprise appearance in the top five. Arizona's medical marijuana program is still relatively young; the enabling legislation passed in 2010, and there were no open dispensaries until late 2012. Now that pot shops are up and running, the state's patient registry has exploded over the past two years, more than doubling from the 44,674 active patients registered in 2013. Arizona also earned the third-best rating from ASA, with the best grade for patient rights and civil protection (98/100) of all medical states.
4. Colorado – 108,675 (as of February 2016)
Although slightly declining as recreational dispensaries and products begin to gain popularity, Colorado's registry still boasts the highest number of patients per 1,000 residents in the country, at 19.8, according to ProCon.org. And despite scoring low ASA grades for product safety and patient rights and civil protections, our state is praised for its functionality and access to medicine. Judging by the 200-plus dispensaries in Denver, we can endorse that appraisal.
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3. Washington – 138,056 (MPP estimate as of March 2016)
The second state to legalize recreational marijuana, Washington has a medical program that's significantly less regulated than its retail counterpart. Because of the lack of regulation, patients and growers aren't currently required to register with the state, causing many medical products to go untested. All of that is going to change in July, however, when a recently signed bill that basically applies recreational industry regulations to medical marijuana goes into effect in the state.
2. Michigan – 182,091 (as of January 2016)
Another surprise at the top of the list, Michigan has quickly become the Colorado of the Midwest, with a high number of dispensaries and decriminalized laws for marijuana possession. Although quite welcoming to medical marijuana patients when compared to other states, Michigan placed seventh in the ASA report card with a D- grade and, for some reason, spells its Medical Marihuana Program with an "h" — as though we were still in the 1800s.
1. California – 758,607 (MPP estimate as of March 2016)
Because patients aren't required to register with the state, experts have to estimate the number of California patients — but the MPP insists that this is a conservative prediction. The sheer size of California isn't the only reason that its patient pool dwarfs others; its 19.4 MMJ patients per 1,000 residents is second only to that of Colorado, according to ProCon.org. Tied for first on the ASA report card with a B+, California's medical program has the largest marijuana market in the country to work with, according to Marijuana Business Daily, and that's without a recreational market. If California legalizes recreational marijuana in November, the entire landscape of legal pot could permanently shift.
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