Pennsylvania’s Weed Smoking Capital Is Where You Least Expect It

Pennsylvania is a state with a rich history, diverse culture, and scenic nature. It is also a state with a growing medical marijuana market, but a strict prohibition on recreational cannabis. However, there is one city in Pennsylvania that has a surprisingly high rate of weed smoking, and it is not where you might think.

Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh: The Tale of Two Cities

When it comes to cannabis consumption in Pennsylvania, most people would assume that the two largest and most liberal cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, would be the top contenders. After all, both cities have decriminalized the possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, reducing the penalty to a civil citation and a fine of $25 or $100, depending on the context. Both cities also have a vibrant arts and culture scene, a diverse population, and a progressive attitude.

However, according to a 2018 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), neither Philadelphia nor Pittsburgh are the weed smoking capital of Pennsylvania. In fact, both cities rank below the national average of 15.9% for past-year marijuana use among people aged 12 and older. Philadelphia has a rate of 14.5%, while Pittsburgh has a rate of 13.9%.

The Unexpected Weed Smoking Capital of Pennsylvania

So, which city in Pennsylvania has the highest rate of weed smoking? The answer is Erie, a small city of about 100,000 people located on the shores of Lake Erie in the northwest corner of the state. Erie has a rate of 19.8% for past-year marijuana use among people aged 12 and older, which is higher than any other city in Pennsylvania and well above the national average.

Erie is not a city that is known for its cannabis culture or its liberal politics. It is a predominantly white, working-class, and conservative city that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. It is also a city that is struggling with economic decline, poverty, crime, and opioid addiction. So, what makes Erie the weed smoking capital of Pennsylvania?

The Reasons Behind Erie’s High Weed Smoking Rate

There is no definitive answer to why Erie has such a high rate of weed smoking, but there are some possible factors that could contribute to it. One factor is the availability and affordability of marijuana in Erie. According to a 2019 report by the Pennsylvania State Police, Erie County had the second-highest number of marijuana arrests in the state, behind only Philadelphia County. This suggests that there is a high demand and supply of marijuana in the area, which could lower the price and increase the accessibility of the drug.

Another factor is the lack of legal alternatives to marijuana in Erie. Unlike Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Erie does not have any medical marijuana dispensaries within its city limits. This means that people who use marijuana for medical reasons have to travel to other counties or states to obtain their medicine legally, or resort to the black market. Additionally, Erie does not have any recreational marijuana options nearby, as the neighboring states of Ohio, New York, and Ontario have not legalized cannabis for adult use.

A third factor is the social and psychological stress that many people in Erie face due to the economic and social challenges in the city. Erie has a high unemployment rate, a low median income, a high poverty rate, and a high crime rate compared to the state and national averages. These factors could create a sense of hopelessness, despair, and anxiety among the residents, which could lead them to seek relief and escape through marijuana use.

The Implications and Consequences of Erie’s High Weed Smoking Rate

Erie’s high rate of weed smoking has some implications and consequences for the city and the state. On one hand, it could indicate a potential market and demand for legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania, which could generate tax revenue, create jobs, and reduce law enforcement costs.

According to a 2017 report by the state auditor general, legalizing recreational marijuana could generate up to $581 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. Moreover, a 2019 poll by Franklin & Marshall College found that 58% of Pennsylvanians support legalizing recreational marijuana, up from 22% in 2006.

On the other hand, Erie’s high rate of weed smoking could also pose some public health and safety risks, especially if the marijuana is obtained from the illicit market, which could contain contaminants, pesticides, or synthetic additives. Marijuana use could also impair driving, affect cognitive development, and exacerbate mental health issues, especially among young people and heavy users. Furthermore, marijuana use could also interact with other substances, such as alcohol, opioids, and prescription drugs, and increase the risk of overdose, addiction, and death.


Erie is a city that defies the stereotypes and expectations of cannabis consumption in Pennsylvania. It is a small, conservative, and struggling city that has a higher rate of weed smoking than any other city in the state, including the larger, more liberal, and more prosperous cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The reasons behind Erie’s high weed smoking rate are complex and multifaceted, and the implications and consequences are mixed and uncertain. Erie’s case could serve as a catalyst and a cautionary tale for the ongoing debate and discussion about marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania and beyond.

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