Nearly a fifth of the United States has legalized weed on a recreational basis (with many more legalizing on a medicinal one). These states are as follows: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia has legalized it too.
When looking at a cannabis map, it’s difficult not to notice a common theme: The West Coast is much more open to cannabis than the East.
Part of this is a numbers game – the West Coast is made up of far fewer states than its eastern counterpart. This makes legalizing on the East a naturally longer and more complex process. But this isn’t the only reason: lifestyle, demographics, and political affiliation may play a role as well.
The Eastern Progressives
On the East Coast, Maine and Massachusetts have legalized. Vermont, East Coast-adjacent, also legalized early this year through its own legislature. Yet we haven’t seen much of this come to fruition just yet.
Maine has literally slowed their roll by making the already sticky red tape even stickier. Their pro-pot law is in effect but they’re not issuing any commercial licenses just yet. They’re getting close, but it’s still the government where close doesn’t always count.
These are the exceptions to the East Coast rule; other states have yet to embrace cannabis the way the West has. Rumors continue to swirl – New Jersey will legalize, New York isn’t far behind - but speculation aside, the West remains best for those who like weed.
Medical Marijuana on the East
One of the reasons the East is so slow to adopt recreational pot is because they aren’t wildly accepting of medicinal pot either. Per the Americans for Safe Access 2018 Annual Report, several East Coast states received grades of C or lower. In fact, the vast majority of the F’s awarded (aside from the predictable Wyoming and Utah) were awarded to the eastern parts of the US (the south had a nice showing as well).
It’s not hard to conclude that states against medicinal marijuana will certainly not even entertain the idea of recreational pot.
Weed: A Bipartisan Issue
Marijuana, it’s been argued, is one of the issues that transcends political parties. Amongst the people, this seems to be true: both democrats and republicans are for its legalization. Amongst elected members of Congress, that’s still true but less so.
The East Coast is made up of mostly blue states – in fact, the Northeastern United States is largely blue. But the Northeast is also where marijuana has made progress. States like Alabama, the Carolinas, Louisiana, and Georgia remain 420-unfriendly. They’re also overwhelmingly red.
The Age Influence
Age may be a factor as well: the East Coast, as a whole, tends to have citizens who are older than those living on the West Coast (and this isn’t only because the East Coast claims Florida).
As we’ve discussed in other articles, pot use among seniors is flourishing – Golden Agers are turning to Golden Goat and Golden Nugget to help with everything from chronic pain to glaucoma. This places many in the 65 and older crowd firmly in pot’s corner.
But those whose bodies have not yet reacted to the wear and tear of old age – the younger baby boomers and older Generation Xers who haven’t yet felt the aches of senioritis – may not be on board the bong-wagon just yet. Older generations, as a rule, tend to be less open-minded than the younger ones. While this isn’t always true – our parents brought us Woodstock after all – they are more likely to be set in their ways; if cannabis has always been illegal, they don’t see the need to change that.
With no use for marijuana (yet), those between young adulthood and old age can remain comfortably on the fence. And people who stay on the fence aren’t likely to change the law.
Another factor likely has to do with the cultural differences between the West Coast and the East Coast. The West is naturally more aligned with the culture of pot – the people are more laidback, more health conscious, and more likely to workout and eat vegetables. While New York City is the city that never sleeps, those on the West Coast are more likely to get an adequate amount of rest.
The adoption of healthy, organic living makes the West more fertile ground for Mary Jane. Because cannabis has so many known health benefits – and more that we’re just discovering – it’s only natural that those who are health conscious would embrace it more willingly.
The Popcorn Effect
Of course, the East Coast may also be biding its time, getting out the proverbial carton of popcorn and watching what happens in the likes of California, Washington, and all the other legal states. They’re interested in what happens in Canada as well.
Recreational pot is new – sure, it’s been available in Colorado and Washington for a few years now – but the process remains in its infancy (or at least its toddlerhood). The states that went first can’t help but act as guinea pigs, teaching others states what, and what not, to do.
Of all the states, the spotlight is truly on California, the most populated state in our country and the state with the largest political pull. New York, an influential and populated state, will likely take its cue from what happens out west: will it be 9021-Over or 9021-Awesome?
Cannabis will come to the East Coast eventually – it’s already started to. The West Coast may have been the first region to embrace it, but it will certainly not be the last. The Northeastern US will likely see much progress in the years to come. The south? That’ll be a harder code to crack.