Consumer perceptions of 'legal' and 'illegal' cannabis in US states with legal cannabis sales

Addict Behav. 2021 Jan;112:106563. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106563. Epub 2020 Jul 17.


Introduction: In jurisdictions that have legalized recreational cannabis, perceptions of the 'legal' market may influence whether consumers transition from illegal retail sources. The current study examined consumer perceptions of legal versus illegal retail sources in 6 US states with legal retail sales as of 2018: Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington State.

Methods: Data are from Wave 1 of the International Cannabis Policy Study, an online survey conducted in 2018 among 16-65-year-olds. US respondents were asked about cannabis consumption and perceptions of legal cannabis (n = 5530). Multinomial regression models were fitted for each of five consumer perception outcomes.

Results: Compared to illegal sources, at least one third of respondents perceived legal cannabis to be higher quality (37.6%) and safer to use (40.3%). More than half reported legal cannabis was more convenient to buy (59.2%) and safer to purchase (56.1%), whereas 30.6% of respondents perceived legal cannabis as more expensive. Perceptions varied according to the length of time since legal cannabis sales began: respondents living in more 'mature' legal markets were more likely to perceive legal cannabis as higher quality (AOR = 1.25, 99%CI = 1.07-1.46, p = 0.0003), less expensive (AOR = 1.20, 99%CI = 1.07-1.35, p < 0.0001), more convenient to buy (AOR = 1.36, 99%CI = 1.13-1.62, p < 0.0001) and safer to purchase (AOR = 1.21, 99%CI = 1.02-1.44, p = 0.0047).

Conclusions: With the notable exception of price, consumers reported generally positive perceptions of the legal cannabis market, with more positive perceptions in US states with more 'mature' legal markets.

Keywords: Cannabis; Legalization; Perceptions; Price.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alaska
  • Cannabis*
  • Colorado
  • Humans
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Perception
  • Washington