The Smallest State in the Country has the Most Pot Smokers
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The Smallest State in the Country has the Most Pot Smokers


These days smoking a blunt is more or less like taking a shot of espresso—everyone’s doing it. As we all know, Colorado—home of Coors beer (a poor excuse for beer, we know), idyllic Aspen ski slopes and Dr. James Dobson’s evangelical empire Focus on the Family—was the first state ever to legalize recreational weed in 2012, and Washington State quickly followed suit.

You’d think these states, along with other liberal redwood-hugging states in the West and the Northwest, would be home to the largest concentration of potheads. But it’s actually a tiny state on the East Coast that tops the list.

Congratulations Rhode Island. You may be home to the oldest carousel in the nation, the Tennis Hall of Fame and the largest number of practicing Catholics in any American state, but you are also the capital of tokers.

But Wait, There’s More

To discover this, researchers toured the mountains, plains and our great nation, asking a bunch of folks over the age of 11 to fess up to whether they hit the bong—or pipe or joint or edibles or Syque—in the past month. And they found that 15.76% of the Rhode Island populous used marijuana—almost twice as much as the national average. The runner-up? Not Washington State but Washington D.C.

That’s right. The District of Columbia, home of the Pentagon, a right-winged Congress, the IRS, and of course, Mr. President, has a hefty 15.7% pot-smoking population. We can only hope that these aren’t the folks who are manning drones or calculating our next refunds.

The lowest rates pot smoking rates, meanwhile, were in the Midwest at 8.84% and the south at 8.0%. Could those Midwestern values and Southern Baptist fire-and-brimstone sermons be working?

Pot Ain’t Their Only Issue

When we think of Rhode Island, images of quaint seashores in Newport might come to mind, or colonial houses out in the lush green countryside. Well, the Ocean state is carrying some pretty hefty baggage.

Not only do they get an A+ in marijuana consumption, but they also top the substance-abuse charts with the third-highest record of deaths from alcohol poisoning between 2010 and 2012, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

While officials at the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals can only guess the reason for all this substance abuse, they seem fairly convinced that the state’s high unemployment rate and medium-high poverty rates are the underlying factors. I might add this one: sitting around smoking joints and playing Xbox keeps marijuana users from seeking employment in the first place and could thus be helping to keep them broke. Potheads, after all, aren’t exactly famous for being overachievers.

There’s Hope

The good news—or bad news, depending on your bias—is that Rhode Island has been granted 11 million bucks to invest in lowering booze and weed use for 12-17-year-olds, and to lower prescription drug abuse for 12-25-year-olds. Apparently, the kids in Rhode Island like to mix their weed with oxycodone and Vicodin—smart, and well, stupid at the same time.

Another reason Rhode Island may top the list is the big push to legalize week through a formal legislative process on behalf of activist groups like Regulate Rhode Island and the Marijuana Policy project.

Do We Really Care?

The results of this study might be slightly embarrassing for Rhode Islanders, but with popular public opinion favoring the legalization of pot, it seems somewhat inconsequential what state has the largest percentage of marijuana users. Public officials might feign disappointment, and maybe some went home and sobbed face-down in their pillows after hearing the news, but behind closed doors, it wouldn’t be a shocker if many of them lit up a joint instead.

It was Mr. President, after all, who admitted “I inhaled, frequently. That was the point.”

Photo courtesy of Psychonaught (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.