The munchies don’t increase obesity rates in the United States. That is a fact. Although science hasn’t proven a direct connection between prevention of obesity and cannabinoids, we have analyzed that legal states are less obese than states where prohibition continues. After looking at obesity rate statistics and comparing them to recreational cannabis legalization, we saw that three of the four less obese states were pioneers in marijuana legalization. Furthermore, only one state with legal marijuana exceeds the 30% obesity rate.
All of the data for obesity rates in adults in each state was taken from the State of Obesity Report. This report has statistics up until 2017. In order to be able to analyze if full cannabis legalization has anything to do on the increase or decrease of obesity rates, we are only going to look at states that have legalized marijuana before or in early 2016.
Which states are not going to be taken into consideration?
Michigan approved recreational marijuana during this year’s midterm elections, so it is not possible to see if legalization has any relation with obesity rates. Maine voters legalized by a tight margin the Marijuana Legalization Measure in November 2016. Because of political setbacks, the state only passed the bill last summer.
Vermont officially legalized cannabis on July 1st this year. Unlike the other states that legalized marijuana through ballot, the Green Mountain State legalized through the legislature. Adults can grow two mature plants and four immature plants per housing. You can smoke your own weed, but you are not allowed to sell it to a friend. You can give it as a Christmas gift if you want! Adults are allowed to possess one ounce, but it is not allowed to smoke in the car or any public space.
Massachusetts approved marijuana legalization through ballot in 2016. However, lawmakers delayed, for almost two years, for the beginning of marketing. Legal and official dispensaries only opened up until a few months ago. So there is no margin to see if legalization has affected obesity rates in the state, which in 2017 was at 25.9%.
Finally, Nevada is another state that legalized recreational marijuana but is not going to be a part of this analysis. Although the measure passed in 2016, sales only began in July 2017.
With this cleared, let’s take a look at the other states and see if there is a relation between lower obesity rates and legalization.
Are the states with legal marijuana less obese?
Alaska – 34.2% Obesity Rate
Of all the states that have legalized medicinal and recreational cannabis before 2016, Alaska is the only one with an obesity rate higher than 30%. The Midnight Sun state legalized recreational marijuana in the first quarter of 2015. Legislation allows adults 21 and older to buy and carry up to one ounce of marijuana. Adults can also buy cannabis in dispensaries, which started to operate in late 2016.
The obesity rate in Alaska has grown exponentially since 1994. Twenty three years ago, the obesity rate in adults was at 15.7%. In 2017, the obesity rate in adults was 34.2%. Alaska is the 9th more obese state in the U.S, and with it come related illnesses. This state also has alarmingly high diabetes rates. In fact, it is the third state with more adults suffering from diabetes (7.4% as for 2017).
Even though recreational and medicinal cannabis is legal in Alaska, it appears that going green hasn’t reduced or maintained obesity rates in this state.
Oregon – 29.4% Obesity Rate
As of July 1st 2015, adults 21 and over in Oregon are allowed to grow up to four plants in their home, where they can also possess up to eight ounces of marijuana. Out in the streets, oregonians can possess up to one ounce. However, marijuana cannot be sold or smoked in public. In 2017, the state paid more than 80 million dollars in tax revenue from marijuana. This money was destined to fund schools and public health, among others.
Interestingly, during the first year of legalization, obesity rate in adults decreased by almost three points, going from 30.1% in 2015 to 28.7% in 2016. Also, diabetes rate in adults decreased more than one point, from 10.7% in 2015 to 9.5% the next year.
Washington – 27.7% Obesity Rate
Washington was one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Since 2012, the state allows adults 21 and over to carry up to an ounce. Dispensaries reported more than 1 billion dollars in sales since the first store opened in 2012. Self-cultivation is not allowed for recreational purposes. If adults want to legally grow in their homes, it has to be for medicinal purposes.
Since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, obesity rates stabilized during a period of three years. From 2013 (27.2%) to 2014 (27.3%), obesity rates decreased by less than a point. But it did have a significant decrease in 2015, where obesity rate was 26.4%. In 2016, the state presented a peak in obesity rate (28.6%), but on the following year it decreased again to the range of 27% (27.7%).
According to this data, it appears that, since cannabis legalization, obesity rates have stabilized in 27%, with an increase in 2016 only to go back to the 27% bar in 2017.
The least obese states in U.S are the most green
California, the District of Columbia and Colorado are the Top 3 on the marijuana market. These three states set the tone when it comes to the green industry. Colorado was the first state to legalize in 2012, followed by Washington D.C in 2014 and California going fully legal in the first day of 2016. Looking at the data of obesity rates, it turns out that this three states are also the least obese ones in the country. We could say that they are the 3 least obese states in the U.S if we don’t consider Hawai, which has a 23.8% rate.
California – 25.1% Obesity Rate
California love! The Golden State is without a doubt one of the greenest. It was the first to legalize medicinal cannabis in 1996. And on the first day of the year 2016, Hollywood became Hollyweed. The current law allows adults 21 and over to buy eight grams of marijuana edibles and grow six plants per household.
In obesity rates, California is the 4th least obese state in the United States. Since legalization, obesity rates in adults has only increased in 0.1% from 25% in 2015 to 25.1% in 2017.
District of Columbia – 23.0% Obesity Rate
And we arrive to the bottom two. The nation’s capital is the second least obese state in the United States. And it also was one of the first to legalize marijuana. Washington D.C residents voted in favor during the 2014 ballot that took effect in 2015. Adults 21 and over can possess until two ounces of marijuana. Since legalization, obesity rate in adults has grown less than one point, from 22.1% in 2015 to 23% in 2017.
Colorado – 22.6% Obesity Rate
We can say that Colorado is the greenest and least obese state in the whole country. It was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. In terms of recreational market, there is no other place to go. There are even more dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonalds!
Since legalization, obesity rate has only increased from 20.5% to 22.6% in 2017. It is still the state with the lowest obesity rate in the United States and it has been since the early 1990s. It’s fair to say that the munchies hasn’t doesn’t increase obesity rates after all.
Cannabis and obesity: what studies say
Although this is very encouraging, science has not been able to show without a doubt that there is a direct link between cannabis and obesity. You would’ve thought that marijuana users tend to be more obese because of the munchies. But that isn’t necessarily true.
A 2011 study looked at the correlation between regular marijuana users and obesity rates. To analyze the connection, authors took to representative studies of US adults (18 and older): National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication. Researchers concluded that “the prevalence of obesity is three times lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
The medical and scientific community has begun to investigate how cannabinoids can be a treatment for obesity and diabetes. Although there is nothing conclusive yet, there is a lot of research to be done. And if you look at the obesity rates of all the states, it is more than a coincidence that the least obese ones are California, Washington D.C and Colorado.