U.S. State Approaches to Cannabis Licensing

International Journal of Drug Policy

47 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2021 Last revised: 1 Jun 2022

See all articles by Lucy Xiaolu Wang

Lucy Xiaolu Wang

University of Massachusetts Amherst - Department of Resource Economics; Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition

Nicholas Wilson

LMU Munich; Forcier Consulting

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 28, 2022


U.S. states have taken varied approaches to licensing cannabis businesses under federal prohibition, but up to now there is limited research on cross-state licensing approaches. This paper provides a systematic analysis of the current licensing strategies taken by all states that have passed medical cannabis laws (MCLs)/recreational cannabis laws (RCLs). We construct comprehensive data on cannabis business licenses offered in each state, as well as metrics for license categories, cost, and issuance volume. We then analyze patterns between these metrics, also considering how long ago states implemented MCLs/RCLs, qualitative licensing aspects, state ideology and voting preference, and state cannabis taxation data. We observe that states tend to license medical cannabis more restrictively than adult-use cannabis: i.e., by offering licenses in fewer categories, at higher cost, in lower issuance volume, and more often mandating vertical-integration. Additionally, states that implemented MCLs/RCLs earlier tend to offer licenses in more categories, at lower cost, and in greater issuance volume. Further, though states that implemented MCLs recently lean conservative and Republican, we do not observe clear relationships between ideology or voting preference and licensing policy. In our supporting results, we observe that a greater share of states with complex licensing structures impose non-retail price cannabis taxes than states overall, and we discuss how states have changed their licensing policies over time.

Keywords: licensing, rationing, medical cannabis, adult-use cannabis, cannabis legalization

JEL Classification: I1, D45

Suggested Citation

Wang, Lucy Xiaolu and Wilson, Nicholas, U.S. State Approaches to Cannabis Licensing (May 28, 2022). International Journal of Drug Policy, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3953347 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3953347

Lucy Xiaolu Wang (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts Amherst - Department of Resource Economics ( email )

Stockbridge Hall
80 Campus Center Way
Amherst, MA 01003
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.lucyxiaoluwang.com/

Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition ( email )

Marstallplatz 1
Munich, Bayern 80539

Nicholas Wilson

LMU Munich ( email )


Forcier Consulting ( email )

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