Marijuana Policy and Personality Type

Marijuana Policy and Personality Type

This blog post originally published at

A study recently published in Time gives even more reason for marijuana policy activists in the US to be optimistic. The study, led by a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, deals with personality types between US states. The results imply that marijuana policy reform is even more broadly supported than was previously understood.

The study lasted 13 years and involved collecting survey data from over 1.6 million respondents from the lower 48 states. Respondents were asked to rate themselves in surveys measuring the “Big Five” personality traits: extroversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Readers can compare the results of the study with the Marijuana Policy Project’s map of state-level marijuana policies. Interestingly, even states with seemingly opposite personalities are similar in taking a more tolerant approach to marijuana than most. An analysis two months ago judged 10 states as particularly likely to legalize marijuana in the near future, and those 10 display similar diversity.

Marijuana use is still associated in the minds of some with an unmotivated “slacker” demographic, and reform advocates are sometimes tarred with the same brush. Although this study does not precisely include a “motivation” dimension, conscientiousness (explained as “self-discipline and dependability”) may be close. Maine, with the lowest conscientiousness rating of any state, does have relatively lenient marijuana penalties overall, along with a medical marijuana program. The same is true of number 47, Connecticut. However, the state ranking third in conscientiousness, North Carolina, also punishes possession of less than a half-ounce with a maximum of a $200 fine. Nebraska, at number 4, has a similar approach to possession, at least for first offenses.

Marijuana leaf

Marijuana leaf / Image credit:


Neuroticism (defined in the study as “anxiety and anger”) is also relevant to the stoner stereotype, since “slackers” are presumably not engaged enough to be worried about much. Again, though, many states across the spectrum for this trait have more liberal marijuana laws. The 46th– and 48th– ranked states in neuroticism, Washington and Colorado, have actually legalized marijuana. At the same time, the second- and third-ranked states, Maine and Massachusetts, have both medical marijuana and decriminalization in place.

In two of the other personality traits, the District of Columbia stands out, with both the highest openness (explained as “curiosity and preference for novelty”) and the lowest agreeableness. The District recently became home to its first medical marijuana dispensary, and the majority of city council members support a proposal to apply a fine of no more than $100 to possession of less than an ounce. Minnesota, though, near the opposite end of the spectrum at 44th place in openness, has decriminalized possession of less than one ounce. The already-mentioned North Carolina is third from the top in agreeableness.

Previous polls have divided support for marijuana law reform according to demographic characteristics such as age, gender and race. This new study does not exactly allow dividing the results by personality type. However, particularly in cases where the reforms were passed by a voter initiative rather than by the legislature, which is most of them, it seems fair to estimate that current laws are a general indication of the will of the voters of that state. This is particularly true for medical marijuana measures, as most of them were passed relatively recently.

People with quite divergent personality types, then, are united in supporting more liberal marijuana policies. Gallup polls from this year actually show that legalizing marijuana is more popular than legalizing same-sex marriage, and much more popular than the current administration or the Democratic or Republican parties. There is every reason to believe that the movement has finally gained mainstream acceptance, and that its momentum will continue.