Pennsylvania is a state full of scenic beauty, a diverse population, and a rich history. It’s a state where the market for medical marijuana is expanding as well, but recreational marijuana use is strictly forbidden. But it’s not where you might expect—one Pennsylvanian city has an unexpectedly high percentage of marijuana use.
Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia: A Tale of Two Cities
Most people would believe that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s two biggest and most liberal cities, would be the top contenders when it comes to cannabis consumption. After all, possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is now decriminalized in both cities, with a fine of either $25 or $100, depending on the circumstances. In addition, there is a thriving arts and cultural scene, a diverse population, and a progressive vibe in both cities.
Nonetheless, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia aren’t Pennsylvania’s marijuana smoking capitals, per a 2023 report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Actually, when it comes to marijuana use among those 12 years of age and older, both cities perform worse than the 15.9% national average. Pittsburgh’s rate is 13.9%, while Philadelphia’s is 14.5%.
Pennsylvania’s Unexpected Weed Smoking Capital
Which Pennsylvanian city has the greatest marijuana smoking rate, then? The small city of Erie, which has a population of roughly 100,000 and is situated in the northwest corner of the state on the shores of Lake Erie, is the answer. The percentage of adults 12 and older who reported using marijuana in the previous year was 19.8% in Erie, which is more than the national average and higher than any other Pennsylvanian city.
Neither liberal politics nor the cannabis culture are well-known in Erie. This conservative, mostly white working-class city supported Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. In addition, the city is dealing with poverty, violence, opioid addiction, and economic downturn. What, therefore, makes Erie Pennsylvania’s marijuana smoking capital?
The Causes of the High Rate of Weed Smoking in Erie
There are a few potential causes for Erie’s high marijuana smoking rate, but there is no clear-cut explanation for it. The accessibility and cost of marijuana in Erie is one of the factors. The Pennsylvania State Police reported in 2022 that Erie County had the second-highest number of marijuana arrests in the state, only surpassed by Philadelphia County. This shows that there may be a large supply and demand for marijuana in the area, which could lead to a drop in the drug’s price and an increase in its accessibility.
The dearth of acceptable marijuana substitutes in Erie is another contributing cause. In contrast to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Erie does not contain any medicinal marijuana dispensaries inside its boundaries. This implies that those who need medicinal marijuana must either turn to the criminal market or travel to neighboring counties or states in order to lawfully receive their medication. Furthermore, since the adjacent states of Ohio, New York, and Ontario have not legalized cannabis for adult use, Erie is without recreational marijuana choices.
The emotional and psychological strain that many Erie residents experience as a result of the social and economic difficulties the city faces is a third element. In comparison to the state and national averages, Erie has a high rate of poverty, a low rate of median income, a high rate of unemployment, and a high rate of crime. These elements may induce feelings of worry, pessimism, and despair in the locals, which may prompt people to turn to marijuana use as a means of escape and solace.
The Significance and Repercussions of Erie’s Elevated Rate of Marijuana Use
The high prevalence of marijuana use in Erie has certain ramifications for both the state and the city. On the one hand, it might point to a market and demand for Pennsylvania’s recreational marijuana legalization, which would bring in money for the state’s coffers, create jobs, and save money on law enforcement.
Pennsylvania would receive up to $581 million in tax income year from the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, according to a 2023 analysis by the state auditor general. Furthermore, according to a Franklin & Marshall College study conducted in 2019, 58% of Pennsylvanians favor the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, up from 22% in 2006.
However, the high prevalence of marijuana use in Erie may also pose a risk to public health and safety, particularly if the drug is acquired illegally and may contain toxins, pesticides, or artificial additives. Additionally, heavy users and young people may experience impaired driving, impaired cognitive development, and worsened mental health problems as a result of marijuana usage. Moreover, marijuana usage may combine with prescription medicines, alcohol, opioids, and other substances, raising the risk of overdose, addiction, and death.
The misconceptions and preconceptions around cannabis use in Pennsylvania are broken in the city of Erie. More people smoke marijuana in this little, conservative, and impoverished community than in any other in the state, even Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which are both bigger, more affluent, more liberal cities. The causes of Erie’s high marijuana smoking rate are numerous and intricate, with conflicting and unclear ramifications. The instance of Erie may act as both a spur and a lesson for the current discussion and debate on the legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.