Cannabis businesses are more prevalent in Washington’s low-socioeconomic areas

A closeup of a clear bag with marijuana inside of it.
Packaged marijuana

SPOKANE, Wash.– Researchers at Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine published a new study that shows low-socioeconomic neighborhoods across Washington have the highest density of cannabis producers, processors and retailers.

The study analyzed data from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board and Census Bureau across the state’s 1,446 census tracts from 2014 through 2017. At every year measured, cannabis businesses were found at higher rates in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Compared to their more advantaged counterparts, low-socioeconomic neighborhoods saw a 159 percent increase in producer density, a 120 percent increase in processor density, and a 258 percent increase in retailer density. Though additional studies are needed to understand why cannabis businesses are more prevalent in these areas, WSU researchers point to possible explanations including lower cost of real estate and less resistance to the presence of cannabis compared to neighboring communities.

“Our mission at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is to understand challenges facing rural and underserved communities, and this study shows that disadvantaged communities in Washington have disproportionate numbers of cannabis businesses,” said Solmaz Amiri, postdoctoral research associate in the department of nutrition and exercise physiology and co-author of the report. “Having this insight is an important step toward better understanding how cannabis businesses can impact the health of individuals and communities.”

While the data points to a disparity in the density of cannabis businesses, the industry remains in its infancy and research has yet to fully explore and understand the relationship between the presence of cannabis businesses and their impacts to neighborhoods. WSU researchers hope the findings of this study will help inform administrative agencies and policymakers about equity issues related to the industry, particularly as other communities and regions consider legalizing recreational cannabis.

“States, local authorities, and policy makers have started developing regulations for the cannabis industry without knowing the public and health impacts of such regulations,” said Amiri. “We need to understand the specific needs and challenges of communities impacted by the legalization of cannabis, such as if legalization is increasing consumption and the impact of legalization on neighborhoods and crime.”

To view the complete interactive report, visit To learn more about the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, visit

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