Cannabis is one industry that came out of the pandemic stronger than it went in. But unlike some other lockdown beneficiaries, like Peloton or Clorox, its growth appears to be continuing for the long term.
Global weed sales this year have risen 41% over 2020, which itself was a banner year, with sales surging 46% over 2019. Weed sales for 2021 are projected to clock in at close to $31 billion according to BDSA, the largest cannabis market research firm.
Covid anxiety and lockdown boredom certainly played a role. But the supercharged growth is also the result of a legalization movement that has swept the U.S. in the last few years.
Colorado was the first state to fully legalize weed in 2012. Today there are 18 states where marijuana is fully legal for adults (“adult-use” states) plus, Washington D.C., and 37 that permit sales of medical marijuana. That means the majority of the U.S. population can now legally buy weed. Legalization has been a trickle and then a flood: 10 new states legalized in the last five years. Most recently, New Mexico, Virginia, Connecticut and South Dakota voted “yes” this summer. (Note, however, that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.) The cannabis-related job market has also grown rapidly.
Some of the country’s emerging legalized weed markets have already started doing serious business, far areas where the industry is more established, like California and Colorado. To locate some of the hottest new markets, we’ve assembled a map, based on reviews on the cannabis database and forum Weedmaps, of the 100 best weed dispensaries around the country. These shops have the highest number of reviews with an average of “5” on a 5-point scale, according to the data collected by Thinknum.
Predictably, California possesses the largest cluster of top-reviewed dispensaries, and is home to more than a quarter of Weedmaps’ 100 most popular shops. However, although California was the original state to legalize medical marijuna in 1998 and legalized recreational sales in 2016, high taxes and expensive licenses have discouraged retailers. As a result, the state’s black market for marijuana is estimated to be as much as twice the size of its $5 billion legal market.
California has only two legal dispensaries per hundred people, with a ratio that is one of the lowest among adult-use states. However, per our data, some of those shops are very popular. By comparison, Oregon has nearly 18 weed retailers for every 100,000 residents — and 17 of the country's most popular 100 dispensaries to show for it.
Perhaps the most interesting markets reflected on the map is in Oklahoma. Despite its conservative voting record and medical-only restrictions for marijuana sales, the state has 19 of the most popular shops tracked by Weedmaps, or even more of the top 100 shops than Oregon.
Oklahoma okayed medical marijuana sales via ballot initiative in 2018. But enforcement of the rules appears to be limited. Anecdotally, the state has earned the nickname “Tokelahoma,” for its abundant dispensaries. Marijuana business licenses cost only $2,500 (they can get into the tens of thousands in other states) which has attracted farmers and entrepreneurs from around the country (as well as, to the state’s dismay, international operations who set up shops through “ghost” owners). There are more than 9,000 growing operations in the state, compared with only 13 in Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana is also legal, and 6,000 in California.
Michigan is also surprisingly crowded with popular dispensaries, home to six of the top 100. The first dispensaries opened up in Michigan in 2018, and legalized weed sales hit $1.3 billion in 2021. It’s the third biggest weed market in the U.S., right behind Colorado, where sales topped $2 billion this year. Surprisingly however, despite being the first state to legalize recreational weed and the No. 2 state in the country as far as sales, only two of the country’s top-rated dispensaries are located in Colorado.
Other new markets starting to register on Weedmaps are in Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, Montana and Maryland, which all have between one and four of the top shops.
The cream of the crop
Here is a quick look at the five highest-rated dispensaries we found.
White Mountain Health Center
Location: Sun City, Arizona
Number of reviews: 10,927
Location: Glendale, Arizona
Number of reviews: 5,159
Location: Hamtramck, Michigan
Number of reviews: 2,167
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Number of reviews: 2,111
Mr. Nice Guy
Location: Portland, Oregon
Number of reviews: 1,672
Our data shows that hybrid locations, where both medical and recreational weed is available tend to be most popular. Nine out of the top 10 rated dispensaries offered both medical products and recreational. The exception? Canna Land Dispensary in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where medical remains the only option. It’s status on the top 10 shows just how hot medical-only markets can be.
Arizona’s top-notch bud tenders
Medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since 2010, but its recreational market only opened up in January of 2021. Although their neighbors in Colorado get more of the reputation, Arizona’s weed industry has thrived in the past few years and spawned two of the best dispensaries in the country.
White Mountain Health Center is a medical-turned-hybrid dispensary founded by weed activist Daryl “Butch” Williams (and inventor of a bong-cleaning tool). It was the first ever in Sun City, Arizona when it opened in 2016, after successfully suing Maricopa county for its right to sell medical marijuana. It’s since racked up awards from delivery service Leafly and over ten thousand of five star reviews for its highly experienced budtenders. It’s run like a doctor’s office, with a waiting room and employs Suzanne Sisley, a research pioneer in the industry who’s conducted studies on cannabis as a treatment for opioid addiction and PTSD, as its health director. Their edibles and flowers are all grown in house.
Arizona’s — and the country’s — No. 2 dispensary is Ponderosa Dispensary in Glendale. Founded in 2013, with over 5,000 five star reviews, its calling cards are less flashy than White Mountain Health Center. Ponderosa brags about its “craft cannabis,” grown by its cultivator Sonoran Roots in a hydroponic medium called rockwool, and “deli-style flower.”
Sorry, mom and pop
Two of the most popular dispensaries on Weedmaps belong to chains. PUFF in Michigan and Mr. Nice Guy in Oregon are both chain operations. Last week, PUFF opened its fourth location, in Madison Heights. Both its Hamtrack and Traverse City locations both land in the top 10 based on Weedmaps reviews.
Mr. Nice Guy is a self-described, “premium upscale” cannabis retailer and the largest privately owned retailer on the west coast. They have two locations in California, and twenty in Oregon. Their locations in Portland and Corvallis both crack the top 10 based on reviews. However, compared to the largest chains, like Massachusetts-based Curaleaf and Florida chain Trueliev, which both have at least 80 stores, PUFF is still the small guy, while Mr. Nice Guy is starting to climb in the ranks.
Weed delivery used to be a novelty — see the show High Maintenance. Today’s it’s relatively common for dispensaries but it’s helped propel Pisos to the position of the third-best rated shop on Weedmaps. Pisos offers same-day delivery from 8:00 a.m. to midnight. It’s easy to imagine they do good business on the Vegas strip, which is located a few blocks away.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.