Is Denver really the best city in the country for lighting up? Find out what the data says about America’s most pot-friendly places – six of which are in California.

Originally posted at Movoto Blog.
By Randy Nelson.

Potheads across the country were given cause to lazily sit forward on their couches and clap unenthusiastically last week when Colorado’s controversial Amendment 64 went into effect, legalizing (at the state level) the recreational use of marijuana and the possession of up to one ounce of weed by residents of the state. This event has had the entire country talking about how the Highest State’s largest metro, Denver, is now a veritable Mary Jane Mecca–the spot for pot, if you will.

Is it really, though? That’s what the Movoto Real Estate Blog set out to determine through the power of data.

After an amount of research that would seem like the most seriously difficult thing ever to a habitual toker, we concluded that, yes, the Mile-High City really is the best place for getting high in the 50 states–but it’s not alone. These, dear readers, are the 10 highest cities in America:

1. Denver, CO
2. Colorado Springs, CO
3. Seattle, WA
4. San Bernardino, CA
5. Aurora, CO
6. Santa Ana, CA
7. Irvine, CA
8. San Francisco, CA
9. Sacramento, CA
10. Los Angeles, CA

No huge surprises here. Colorado is, of course, the current king of kush. Washington is coming up fast, though, thanks to its passing of Initiative 502, which is similar to Colorado’s new law. Legal pot sales won’t actually start there for a few more months, though. The real question we had was why exactly San Bernardino outranked the likes of San Francisco and Los Angeles when it comes to baking (and we don’t mean the kind you see on “Cake Boss”).

Read on to find out how we ranked these blazin’ burgs, along with some “duuuuuude”-worthy details on why our top 10 placed where they did. Tie-dyed attire and Phish soundtrack are entirely optional.

How We Rolled This Ranking

Contrary to what you might think, no drugs were necessary when it came to figuring out how we could possibly rank America’s cities in terms of pot-friendliness. In fact, just as with our other Big Deal Lists, this was a fairly serious, data-driven affair. Sure, we may be squares, but we’re proud of it.

To determine a city’s idealness for herb connoisseurs, we selected seven different criteria to measure:

  • Marijuana dispensaries per capita
  • Number of residents with medical marijuana cards
  • Head shops per capita
  • Marijuana-related events & festivals per capita
  • Whether or not medical marijuana use is legal in the state
  • Whether or not marijuana use is legal in the state
  • Whether or not marijuana use is decriminalized in the state (no fine/jail for first-time possession)

Once we had all that data, we crunched the numbers and ended up with the ranking above (and the information below).

As for our methodology, we looked at the 100 largest cities in the country in terms of population. The cities were ranked from one to 100 (with one being best) in the first four criteria. They received one of two rankings for the final three criteria, which were weighted in terms of importance to those who like to light up. The final ranking of most pot-friendly cities was determined by averaging the cities’ scores across all seven criteria to create one overall Big Deal Score. You can see how the top 50 cities placed in the table at this end of this post.

Now, if you’re still with us, man, let’s talk about how each of our top 10 cities for tokers smoked their competition.

1. Denver, CO

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Wikipedia user O’Dea

Here’s something that will blow your mind, dude: Denver didn’t come in first in terms of the number of dispensaries per capita. Nope, that distinction went to Winston-Salem, NC. Denver was no slouch, with one dispensary for every 3,780 residents–and that’s before the more than 100 others recently awarded licenses to sell pot in Colorado have opened up shop. Winston-Salem, however, trumped it with a whopping one dispensary for every 1,560 residents.

Denver tied for second place with neighboring Colorado Springs when it came to the percentage of its residents (2.1 percent) who hold medical marijuana cards–and can probably be found at local events like the High Times Cannabis Cup. Where the Mile-High City really scored major points was–not surprisingly–the state that’s in, one where recreational pot use is now legal (to a degree, at least). In fact, the only other state that could match it in that respect is Washington. More on that in a sec.

2. Colorado Springs, CO

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Flickr user Beverly & Pack

This one wasn’t a big surprise either, what with Colorado Springs being in Colorado. Still, that wasn’t the only reason why the city ranked so highly. Despite being nearly 200,000 residents smaller than Denver, Colorado Springs managed a respectable 13th place ranking for dispensaries per capita. This city, usually associated with recreational activities that don’t involve smoking plants, has one dispensary for every 14,213 residents.

Head shops are also plentiful in the city, which placed 31st for the criterion. Denver, by comparison, placed 22nd. Apparently, their residents are all set in terms of paraphernalia.

3. Seattle, WA

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Wikipedia user Ekaune

When your city hosts a three-day festival devoted to marijuana and hemp that’s attended by thousands of ganja aficionados, you know it takes pot pretty seriously. When it places third out of the nation’s 100 largest cities in terms of per-capita dispensaries, that’s another big indication. In fact, Seattle has one weed-dealing shop for every 4,850 people who live there–and sales under Initiative 502 aren’t even going to start until later in 2014.

Even with that impressive proliferation of dispensaries, the city actually places 23rd in terms of residents with medical marijuana cards (1.46 percent of the people who live there have one).

4. San Bernardino, CA

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Flickr user Ethan K

As you’ve probably already noticed, our top 10 is decidedly West Coast (and California) centric. When it comes to weed in the Golden State, San Bernardino smokes the rest–even if it doesn’t have the best munchies, or the most dispensaries. It placed 17th for those, with one for every 23,668 residents.

It does, however, have the most head shops per capita of any top 100 city in the U.S. at one for every 8,876 residents. It’s also tops for festivals, with the likes of HempCon and several smaller events being held there every year. In terms of medical pot card holders, it ranks fifth with 1.47 percent of its residents possessing one.

5. Aurora, CO

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Flickr user ThatMakesThree

The fact that Aurora is the third Colorado city on our list is largely due to the state’s legalization of recreational pot use, sure, but medical users of the herb also helped it place this highly. Aurora actually placed first for the number of medical marijuana card holders who live there, a number that’s slightly more than 2.1 percent, edging out Denver and Colorado Springs for that distinction.

In terms of actual dispensaries, though, Aurora only managed a 38th place showing. For head shops, it placed 57th, so it didn’t do a whole lot better in that respect, either.

6. Santa Ana, CA

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Flickr user Loco Steve

Next, we head back to California, and more specifically Orange County–which, between Santa Ana and our No. 7 city should be renamed Pot-Green County. Santa Ana placed seventh overall in terms of per-capita dispensaries, having one for every 8,903 residents. It also managed a second-place finish for head shops, with one of those for every 10,981 folks who live in the city.

It didn’t earn any points for pot festivals and events, since it doesn’t have any actually based within its city limits. Sorry, folks, we’re pretty picky about our data.

7. Irvine, CA

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Flickr user Occupy Irvine

Proving that pot smokers come from every walk of life, the uber-affluent Orange County city of Irvine found its way into our top 10. Its placing had more to do with per-capita head shops than dispensaries, though; it has one place to purchase paraphernalia for every 15,395 residents, versus one dispensary for every 43,106 people who call it home.

Like pretty much every city in California, Irvine tied for fifth place in terms of medical marijuana card holders. Just shy of 1.5 percent of the people who live there have one.

8. San Francisco, CA

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Source: Flickr user Fred Rockwood

Honestly, going into this study we expected San Francisco to place much higher. After all, the City by the Bay is pretty much synonymous with hippie culture, and anyone who’s ventured near Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park, oh, any time of day will tell you that weed culture is going strong in the city. Despite this, and other signs of prolific pot use in the city, it only managed an 11th placed finish for dispensaries with one for every 10,421 residents.

For head shops, it placed 20th, with one for every 47,813 residents. At least SF made the top 25 for pot-related events, ranking 22nd for that criterion.

9. Sacramento, CA

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Flickr user Janice Marie Foote

For a state where marijuana use isn’t entirely legal, California’s capital sure placed well. In fact, Sacramento placed sixth overall in terms of dispensaries per capita, with one for every 8,141 people who live in the city.

In terms of head shops, it was pretty much average in 42nd place, but made of some ground with a 10th place ranking in festivals & events, such as HempFest Sacramento. If contact highs are more your thing, there always seems to be some kind of legalization rally going on at the capitol.

10. Los Angeles, CA

These Are The 10 Highest Cities In AmericaSource: Flickr user Neon Tommy

The fact that Los Angeles didn’t place higher also came as quite a surprise. As the second-largest city out of the 100 we surveyed (only New York City is larger), it simply couldn’t hold up when looked at on a per-capita basis. That didn’t keep it from posting an impressive ninth place result for dispensaries, with one for every 10,324 of its 3.8 million residents.

More people in Los Angeles have medical pot cards than in any other city in our top 100–56,111 people in all. Still, that’s just short of 1.5 percent, placing it in a tie for fifth place in that category. LA’s lowest ranking was in head shops; it placed 35th there, with one for every 74,896 residents.

These Cities Aren’t Going to Pot

Whether you’re for or against marijuana use, there’s no denying the data; our top 10 most pot-friendly cities also rank among the best places to live in America for a variety of groups, from couples raising families to people who crave excitement (of a non-drug-induced nature). So, maybe the people of Colorado and Washington are onto something? At the very least, we know they’re on something.

(click to enlarge)
the Highest Cities In America

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Who is Movoto Real Estate, you might ask? Movoto is an online real estate brokerage based in San Mateo, CA. Our blog has been recognized for its unique approach to city-based research by major news organizations around the world such as Forbes and CBS News.