The matter of marijuana (hashish) legalization moved into headlines following Colorado’s and Washington’s selections to allow leisure use of the drug in 2012. Yet, these adjustments replicate practically 50 years of evolution in drug coverage.1

The leisure of state legal guidelines on the possession and use of marijuana could be traced again to 1973, when Oregon turned the primary state to decriminalize the possession of modest portions of marijuana, with a most penalty of a $100 wonderful. Then, in 1996, California authorised marijuana utilization for medical functions. As of January 2020, about half of the states and quite a few native jurisdictions have decriminalized possession to various levels, and 33 states at the moment have insurance policies that enable sufferers to make use of marijuana in the event that they qualify based mostly on their medical analysis.2

Data for recreational-use states do point out progress in authorized gross sales and use. For instance, in Colorado, month-to-month leisure gross sales had been between $10 million and $20 million in early 2012; these gross sales have stabilized to round $90 million per thirty days in 2018, or round $1 billion per 12 months (just below $200 per particular person per 12 months).3 Reported marijuana utilization by adults in Colorado rose from 10.4% in 2011-12 to 18.1% by 2017-18.4

Notable will increase in utilization after legalization are additionally evident in Washington and Oregon; in truth, Oregon had the second highest utilization fee within the nation in 2017-18, with 20% of adults utilizing marijuana a minimum of one time prior to now month. In distinction, nationwide utilization has been solely slowly rising, up from 7.1% in 2011-12 to 9.8% in 2017-18. Longer-term developments point out that day by day marijuana use by all adults has remained comparatively secure and at low ranges since 2000; some subgroupings put day by day charges at under 3%.

A Closer Look on the Eighth District States

Marijuana is handled otherwise among the many seven states which are a part of the Eighth Federal Reserve District:5

  • Three states (Illinois, Missouri and Mississippi) have decriminalized private possession of marijuana to some extent.
  • Three states (Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri) at the moment have or could have medical marijuana applications in 2020.
  • Illinois has allowed gross sales of marijuana for leisure use.
  • Three states (Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee) proceed to criminalize all possession of marijuana.

Adult marijuana use throughout these seven states is close to or under the nationwide common, with 2016-17 estimates starting from 7.9% in Kentucky to 9.6% in Indiana.

On Jan. 1, 2020, Illinois turned the primary state within the Eighth District to permit the sale of marijuana for leisure use. January gross sales reached just below $41 million. Assuming no progress in gross sales, yearly that is $480 million, or about $12 per capita. The Colorado expertise suggests gross sales are more likely to exceed this quantity, assuming ample provide.

The 12 months 2020 additionally marked the addition of Missouri as a state permitting gross sales of medical marijuana. The desk under summarizes key statistics of the medical markets within the three District states that enable these gross sales; it gives a snapshot of the availability and demand out there in every respective state. Assuming related demographics and medical wants in these states, various state insurance policies clarify the totally different outcomes.

State First Year of Medical Marijuana Initial Number of Patients Current Number of Patients Number of Licensed Dispensaries in Operation Average Number of Patients per Dispensary in Operation
Illinois 2015 2,663 76,939 55 1,399
Arkansas 2017 5,459 15,466 6 2,578
Missouri (estimate) 2020 21,000* [46,319; 128,070**] 192 [241; 667]
* Reported variety of preregistered sufferers
** The lower-bound estimate relies on the typical share of inhabitants registered as sufferers (0.8%) throughout all U.S. states the place medical marijuana is authorized, and the higher-bound estimate relies on the utmost share in any state, which is Colorado at 2.1%.
NOTES: Arkansas has 32 licensed dispensaries, however solely six are working. The Missouri determine for licensed dispensaries in operation assumes each authorised license applicant will function a dispensary.
SOURCES: Arkansas Department of Health, 2019; Illinois Department of Public Health, 2019; Haslag, Crader and Balossi; and creator’s calculations.

Initial affected person enrollment in Illinois (2,663) and Arkansas (5,459) has steadily elevated over time and at related progress charges. Although Arkansas’ inhabitants is barely 1 / 4 of the inhabitants of Illinois, preliminary enrollment was greater than twice as excessive. In distinction, preliminary studies for Missouri (with a inhabitants round half of Illinois’) indicated that over 21,000 affected person playing cards had been issued in 2019, effectively earlier than this system got here into impact.6

One motive for various enrollment charges is the variations in qualifying medical situations amongst these states. For instance, post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD) was the highest situation of qualifying sufferers for medical marijuana in Illinois at over 20% in 2019. In Arkansas, intractable ache, which isn’t included within the Illinois program, is the highest qualifying situation at over 30%, whereas PTSD was reported by solely 12% of qualifying sufferers. In Missouri, the listing of qualifying situations seems to be broader than for each Illinois and Arkansas by together with:

  • “a chronic medical condition that is normally treated with prescription medication that could lead to physical or psychological dependence” and
  • “in the professional judgment of a physician, any other chronic, debilitating or other medical condition.”7

State governments are additionally liable for figuring out the availability out there and approving services to develop, produce and dispense marijuana to sufferers. Missouri has licensed many extra dispensaries than each Illinois and Arkansas, that means Missouri will keep a system with the fewest sufferers per dispensary after they begin working this 12 months. Fewer sufferers per dispensary might end in smaller institutions with decrease income per retailer or, if mounted prices are excessive sufficient, some licensed dispensaries deciding to not function. For instance, in Arkansas, solely six of the 32 licensed dispensaries are in operation due to a spread of regulatory and market challenges.

Do Policies Align with Economic Theory?

While public discourse surrounding the legalization of marijuana usually revolves round perceptions towards leisure drug use, an financial argument supporting (or opposing) legalization could be made no matter one’s ethical standing on use.

The medical use of marijuana raises the query of potential medical advantages and prices. One might view any drug from the identical lens by asking, do the potential advantages from applicable use of the drug outweigh the prices or danger of abuse? What makes the medical marijuana market distinctive to these of different medicine (e.g., prescription narcotics) is how it’s handled by policymakers. For instance, states sometimes don’t topic pharmaceuticals to state gross sales taxes, whereas medical marijuana has been subjected to each state gross sales and excise taxes. Therefore, medical marijuana is taxed extra like alcohol or tobacco than a medical drug.

The leisure use of any drug might create social prices, resembling long-term well being issues, accidents, accidents, unemployment, vagrancy and crime.8 As a results of these social prices, the free-market value is probably going too low and subsequently consumption is simply too excessive. Policymakers can try to resolve this downside in two methods: first is legal enforcement, which will increase the price of supplying medicine, lowering provide out there and subsequently pushing up costs. Second is taxation on purchases, which reduces the amount demanded out there by rising the worth. In concept, each insurance policies might obtain the identical final result of lowering drug use to a socially optimum stage.

Policymakers face the tough activity of taking this concept to observe. Enforcement requires figuring out essentially the most environment friendly methods and the severity of penalization. Policymakers should additionally account for the hostile penalties of incarceration. On the opposite hand, taxation requires figuring out the optimum tax fee, which can range for several types of customers. Again, there could also be a value of imposing this tax on those that search to keep away from fee.9 For each insurance policies, the primary problem is figuring out the social price of drug use, which in the end determines the diploma of needed enforcement or taxation.


Research remains to be wanted to grasp the financial impression of latest state coverage adjustments, and variations throughout states present researchers with many real-world “experiments” to check. However, with marijuana remaining unlawful on the federal stage, these companies face extra challenges in working their companies, resembling lack of entry to banking networks or creating interstate provide chains.

While authorized marijuana has been touted as a method for bettering the fiscal place of states by decreasing enforcement expenditures and producing extra tax income, the truth is rather more advanced. First, taxation on medical marijuana use is inconsistent with tax insurance policies on different medicine utilized in medical remedy. Over time one would anticipate these insurance policies to converge if a consensus emerges on acceptable medical use. Second, will increase in tax income from leisure gross sales probably overstate the fiscal impression or might be short-lived. Consumers are more likely to spend a higher share of their revenue on marijuana and fewer on different taxable items, resembling alcohol.10 Furthermore, states might use the brand new tax income supply as a alternative for current income sources (or future income will increase).11 Third, as is the case with many sorts of “sin taxes”—taxes on merchandise resembling alcohol, tobacco and the lottery—people in decrease revenue brackets are usually extra more likely to eat these merchandise, thereby producing a regressive tax coverage. Fourth, the reliance on sin taxes for income creates an incentive for policymakers to set a tax fee that maximizes income versus the next tax fee that would scale back consumption.12

Olivia Wilkinson, a analysis affiliate on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, supplied analysis help.


  1. As of January 2020, eleven states and Washington, D.C., allow the sale of marijuana for grownup leisure use. Marijuana sale and use stay unlawful below federal regulation.
  2. See NORML webpage for a current list.
  3. See Felix and Chapman for an evaluation on Colorado. It is vital to notice {that a} portion of those gross sales might be to nonresidents.
  4. This is outlined as use over the previous month. See National Survey on Drug Use and Health, State Estimates.
  5. Headquartered in St. Louis, the Eighth Federal Reserve District consists of all of Arkansas and elements of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
  6. See Edwards.
  7. See Missouri’s “Frequently Asked Questions for Physicians.”
  8. See Becker, Murphy and Grossman. The mannequin is designed to use to any unlawful drug, so this assumption means there isn’t a socially helpful (i.e., medical) case to be used. Even with this assumption, the authors discover taxation is the popular coverage of enforcement.
  9. When figuring out which market final result is essentially the most environment friendly, an vital consideration is the elasticity of provide and demand for medicine. If demand is inelastic (i.e., as a result of the drug is extremely addictive), enforcement could also be optimum as a result of customers will nonetheless buy near the identical quantity even with larger taxes. See Becker, Murphy and Grossman for a whole dialogue.
  10. See Anderson.
  11. See Dadayan for a historic perspective and overview of tax insurance policies.
  12. For instance, within the excessive case by which optimum consumption is zero, the optimum tax fee could be excessively excessive, and consumption (and tax income) could be close to zero.


Anderson, Patrick. “Blue Smoke and Seers: Measuring Latent Demand for Cannabis Products in a Partially Criminalized Market.” Business Economics, January 2020, Vol. 55, No. 1.

Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. “Medical Marijuana: 2019 Fiscal Year Report.” 2019.

Becker, Gary; Murphy, Kevin; and Grossman, Michael. “The Market for Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs.” Journal of Political Economy, February 2006, Vol. 114, No. 1.

Dadayan, Lucy. “States’ Addiction to Sins: Sin Tax Fallacy.” National Tax Journal, December 2019, Vol. 72, No. 4.

Edwards, Greg. “Missouri Medical Marijuana Patients Far Exceed Projections.” St. Louis Business Journal, Dec. 3, 2019.

Felix, Alison; and Chapman, Sam. “The Economic Effects of the Marijuana Industry in Colorado.” Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Rocky Mountain Economist, April 2018.

Haslag, Joseph; Crader, G. Dean; and Balossi, William. “Missouri’s Medical Marijuana Market: An Economic Analysis of Consumers, Producers, and Sellers.” Report for Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 2019.

Illinois Department of Public Health. “Annual Progress Report: Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Patient Program Act.” 2019.

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