California is the most populous state in the Union. It's where the nation's medical marijuana movement was birthed, and the Golden State is also where
the rest of the country gets most of its illegal pot, judging by law enforcement
statistics (lo siento, British Columbia and Mexico).
Based on these facts, it stands to reason that
California would have a fair number of medical cannabis users. That
notion, while logical, is unquantifiable (for reasons explained later), though that hasn't stopped California NORML from coming up with its own calculations.
Which are: as many as 1.1 million licensed, recommendation-carrying medical marijuana users in California, who in turn generate as much as $4.5 billion in legal, taxable activity, according to numbers NORML released Tuesday.
Can you say "too big to fail"?
NORML's numbers are guesswork, because, like
skipping the big math test in school or Monday at work, all you need to
become a medical marijuana patient is a doctor's note. And contrary to popular belief, there's no database with every patient's name, rank,
and serial number somewhere in the Sacramento bureaucracy.
In Colorado and
Montana, which do keep such tallies, 2.5 to 3 percent of the
population are medical marijuana users. There are approximately 37 million
people in California -- 2. 5 percent comprises 750,000 patients, and 3 percent
of which is 1,110,000 million legal medical marijuana users.
That's up from 75,000 in 2004 and 300,000 in 2007. In other
words, there are more licensed medical marijuana users in California than
there are people of Native American tribal descent, according to Census data.
"The data shows that medical marijuana users are
becoming an increasingly important constituency," said California NORML director Dale Gieringer in a statement released Monday along with his
organization's most recent estimate. "It is time for the federal government to stop ignoring the facts
and recognize their right to medicine."
Patients' spending power is likewise guesstimated: If every
licensed pot user bought, say, one $40 eighth a week, that would be $160 a
month per patient. Multiply that by 1.1 million, and you have a gigantic
economic driver that's much bigger than NORML's
But how many people are medical pot patients, really? Nobody can say, because it's still an underground movement.
"It's like being openly gay in the 1970s," says
David Goldman, a local activist who sits on the city's Medical Cannabis Task
Force. "A lot
of people are not out because they're afraid of being exposed. You can lose
your job just for being a medical cannabis patient. So we honestly have no way
of knowing" how many legal medical cannabis users exist in California.
Think of it this way: Many medical marijuana users
spend way more than $160 a month -- think of grow lights, soil, water, and
of PG&E bills. Then think of illegal, nonmedical marijuana users, growers,
importers, and exporters all over the state. Then consider parts of the state that legally rely on marijuana to exist: Think of the
annual harvest in Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, and Trinity counties -- the
trimming business, the ancillary food runs, gas for trucks, generators, and
this shit, like it or not.
"It's probably a lot bigger than we think,"
Goldman says. And a much, much bigger part of California's economy than most
politicians -- such as the ones with legislation in the Assembly that would
restrict one of the state's lone growth industries -- would ever want to admit.