Do people move to Colorado for legal weed? Probably not, but no one knows for sure

The question everyone is asking doesn’t have a great answer.

staff photo
(Adrian D. Garcia/Denverite)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau and state licensing data (Adrian D. Garcia/Denverite)

There’s a question Colorado’s state demographer Elizabeth Garner gets asked after nearly every presentation she gives about Colorado’s population trends.

Are people moving here for legal marijuana?

“It’s like the question, ‘How many people moved here because of the John Denver effect?'” Garner said. “I’m sure there are people who have moved here for pot. I don’t know how many or how to prove it.”

It would take a new survey or official study of newcomers to accurately say whether Colorado voters’ decision to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012 is really bringing newcomers to the state, Garner said.

Colorado’s population was growing well before marijuana was legalized, and it’s grown at a similar pace in places with and without retail marijuana sales.

Homebuyers simply aren’t saying they want to relocate to the Denver metro area to get their hands on cannabis. And there’s no data available to indicate otherwise, said Denver real estate agent Anthony Rael.

"For Sale" in Baker. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

"For Sale" in Baker. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

As a “relocation expert” and chair of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors Market Trends Committee, Rael keeps tabs on the habits of homebuyers.

“Within the datasets we use, there’s absolutely no way to determine if there’s a correlation between marijuana and people moving here,” he said. “It’s impossible to know.”

Garner guesses the workforce and other traditional factors still play the largest factor in people’s relocation to Colorado.

Colorado’s economy is doing better than the nation as a whole. In May, the state recorded a 3.4 percent unemployment rate compared to the nation’s 4.7 percent rate.

Rael said marijuana might just be an added perk for some homebuyers, adding that the widely-talked-about drug is also an easy target for people’s frustrations with tight housing markets and other changes population growth is bringing to Colorado cities.

The metro area alone added more than 58,000 people from 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Partly due to a shortage in the supply of homes, the metro is frequently ranked as one of the hottest housing markets in the country.

“Denver used to be kind of a flyover city,” Rael said. “Now over the last 15 years, the greater Denver metropolitan area is really a destination place, and some natives aren’t used to it.

The alleged "John Denver effect" shown on Colorado's population growth in the 1970s. Source: U.S. Census Bureau. (Adrian D. Garcia/Denverite)

The alleged "John Denver effect" shown on Colorado's population growth in the 1970s. Source: U.S. Census Bureau and Billboard. (Adrian D. Garcia/Denverite)

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at or

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