Weekend data poke: Interest in marijuana cultivation and state grow laws

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Advocates of medical marijuana are pushing for a constitutional amendment on Florida’s 2014 ballot to legalize medicinal weed.  Meanwhile, public opinion polls and top medical experts are showing increased support for such measures. 

Which got me thinking: how much are Floridians really thinking about weed? And what, if anything, can we learn from other states that have passed medical marijuana laws in terms of any impact on illegal cultivation? One underlying question is whether medicinal use of marijuana leads to overall greater non-medicinal use of it among a population.  

Thankfully, the Google Trends search feature gives anyone a crude tool for poking into to such questions … at least in as much as Google searches are a limited reflection of a population’s overall interest in a topic.

Already on this blog, we’ve uncovered through Google Trends that Wyomingites don’t give a hoot about Anthony Weiner or Royal Babies. So now, for some stuff about weed.

First, in terms of peak search interest, Floridians are at an all-time low in their frequency of searching for how to “grow marijuana”.  Interest peaked in early 2006 and again in mid-2008, and has since trailed down to about half of its high.

How does this compare to search frequency of the same term in states where successful legislative or constitutional measures have permitted medical marijuana?

Then, for states that allow medicinal weed but do not allow people to cultivate their own, we have Connecticut, Washington DC, and New Jersey.  Delaware and New Hampshire are also on this list, but unfortunately don’t have enough search data to analyze; and Illinois passed similar laws that are not yet in effect.

The red lines on each chart reflect the date(s) at which point medical marijuana laws were effective.

View all charts here: marijuana cultivation search interest

From these charts we see one major similarity: in each of these states, the passage of medical marijuana laws are followed by a brief spike in interest in home-cultivation, but these periods are brief and are followed by dramatic overall declines in interest — particularly relative to their starting points.

What happens in states that permit personal cultivation in addition to access via dispensaries?

For this we can view Arizona, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

Other states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, have similar laws that were enacted too far prior to 2004 when Google began making search data available.  And for New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont, not enough data was available to analyze.

Trends in interest in home marijuana cultivation are less consistent in these states.  In Michigan, search frequency reached an all time high about one year following enactment of their medical marijuana laws but has since gradually trailed down; and in Massachusetts, the passage of weed laws seems to have barely made a dent.  Then there’s Arizona, where the medical marijuana ballot initiative barely passed at 50.13% approval, and where the regulatory process surrounding implementation of the measure has been lengthy. Following the amendment’s passage in November 2010, search interest in growing weed reached a high, but then declined until just after the opening of the first  dispensary in December 2012.   But then fell again.

So basically, what we have here is some very limited observational evidence that people are less interested in growing their own marijuana in states where they can get it through other channels… but that even in states where you could grow your own, interest is doing so is fickle.

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy researcher, political consultant, and mother to three daughters. She can be reached at karen@cyphersgroup.com.