'Marijuana refugees' move for pot

People are relocating to states with friendlier laws, often for medical reasons. It's tough to gauge the rate of these moves, however.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 5, 2014 1:17PM
Image: Moving van (© Digital Vision/Getty Images/Getty Images)By Kelli B. Grant, CNBC

Making two interstate moves in a matter of months, with two young children in tow, wasn't something Moriah Barnhart had planned for.

But within weeks of her 2-year-old daughter, Dahlia, being diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, Barnhart packed the family's bags. They moved from Tampa, Fla., to Memphis, Tenn., last June so her toddler could undergo treatment at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. 

While there, Barnhart's research pointed her to medical marijuana as a worthy treatment to inhibit the cancer and mitigate the side effects of chemotherapy.

"It just was the safest and most viable, effective option," she said. "But it was illegal in Tennessee and in Florida."

So just before Christmas, the Barnhart family was on the road once again, this time to Colorado Springs, Colo. Now, Dahlia gets a small dose daily of a nonpsychoactive (i.e., one that doesn't trigger a high) hemp oil strain called Phoenix Tears -- and, Barnhart says, is back to being a happy toddler, even as her cancer battle and chemo treatments continue.

The Barnharts are just one of many so-called "marijuana refugees" who have relocated or are planning to move amid the shifting legal landscape on medical and recreational use. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have given the green light to treat certain medical conditions with marijuana; Colorado and Washington residents voted in 2012 to decriminalize recreational use. Several other states, including New York and Florida, could see medical marijuana laws on the books this year.

It's tough to gauge the rate of marijuana-inspired moves. Just 0.4 percent of people who moved in the year ended July 1, 2013, said they did so for health reasons, according to the Census Bureau. That's down from 2 percent who said so in 2011. 

And although Census data put Colorado and Washington among the top 10 interstate move destinations last year, both states' population growth rates are on par with those of previous years.

At least anecdotally, advocates say they're hearing from plenty of families who want in. "As soon as we have the intake form up, we're swamped with requests," said Lindsey Rinehart, co-founder of Undergreen Railroad, which helps people raise money and organize interstate moves to medical marijuana-friendly states. Rinehart is herself a marijuana refugee, having moved from Idaho to Oregon last summer to treat her multiple sclerosis.

Since Undergreen Railroad's start last fall, the group of nine volunteers has arranged four family moves -- one each to California and Oregon, and two to Colorado -- with six more in the works. "Idaho, Tennessee and Wisconsin are the states we get the most requests from, to leave," said Rinehart.

Realm of Caring Foundation, whose nonpsychoactive cannabis strain Charlotte's Web is popular among pediatric epilepsy patients, has seen even more demand. The nonprofit says more than 100 families have moved to Colorado for Charlotte's Web, and nearly 200 more are on a waiting list with intent to move when more supply becomes available.

"These are people who don't travel on vacation, they can't even take a Make-a-Wish Trip . . . but they've had to move," said spokeswoman Paige Figi. (Charlotte's Web is named for Figi's daughter, who used to have dozens of seizures a day. Now, with a daily dose of the oil, Charlotte might have just a few seizures a month, she said.)

Despite the interest, when push comes to shove marijuana refugees may find that relocating isn't easy -- or effective. State laws permitting medical marijuana use are often restrictive, limiting dispensary locations and approving use only for certain conditions, said Diane Fornbacher, publisher of Ladybud Magazine. That's why she plans to move her family from one state with a medical marijuana law (New Jersey) to another (Colorado) this spring.

"I don't qualify under New Jersey programs," said Fornbacher, who has been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. "We're moving for that reason. I would like to be medicated." (PTSD isn't covered under Colorado's medical marijuana program either, but Fornbacher can legally buy her medicine from a dispensary licensed for recreational sales.)

Even in Colorado and Washington, where recreational use is allowed, some areas are more open than others.

"I'm bursting people's bubbles on a daily basis," said Colorado real estate broker Bob Costello. Costello, who bills himself as "the 420-friendly realty broker," said many out-of-state residents who call to inquire about property listings are unaware of nuances in state law that limit growing to six plants -- no more than half of which can be mature flowering plants -- and that permit local governments to limit or ban pot retail.

For example, Douglas County, located between Denver and Colorado Springs, was the first county to ban marijuana operations back in 2012. "It's very much middle-class suburbia," said Costello, and that makes it attractive to many would-be residents. "But if you're going to have the lifestyle, Douglas County is not the place for you."

Consumers may also find exclusions of certain kinds of properties. Communities with homeowners associations might prohibit growing, and condo and co-op boards generally frown on any kind of smoke that seeps through ducts into neighboring properties, he said. Would-be tenants may also find that landlords prohibit smoking (pot or otherwise) on property.

Then, of course, there are the usual moving considerations. Families aren't likely to be looking solely for proximity to dispensaries, said Jed Kolko, chief economist for Trulia.com. "Often, for lots of people in a home search, school districts and low crime are both important," he said. Commute time to work, proximity to family and friends and overall affordability also matter.

That last attribute can be particularly tricky. Many marijuana refugees are already dealing with expensive medical conditions and need help from fund-raisers and sponsors to make the move. In some cases, the move splits families, with some members staying behind to hold down jobs, Figi said. "It's a tough decision to make," she said.

It doesn't help that many of the states where marijuana use is allowed are also those that have higher costs of living. According to CNBC's America's Top States for Business 2013, none of the 10 states with the lowest cost of living has legalized marijuana. Of the 10 with the highest, nine have medical marijuana laws -- Hawaii, Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont -- and the only holdout, New York, is taking steps to follow suit. 

Washington and Colorado aren't cheap, either. In the rankings, just 14 states had a higher cost of living than Washington; 18 were pricier than Colorado.

(See chart below for median home prices in top U.S. metropolitan areas where medical or recreational marijuana use is legal.)

Home prices in cities where pot is legal
U.S. MetroMedian price of homes listed for sale, 2013 Q4
San Francisco, CA$838,000
San Jose, CA$632,495
Orange County, CA$559,000
Honolulu, HI$500,000
Ventura County, CA$489,900
Oakland, CA$469,000
Los Angeles, CA$440,000
San Diego, CA$425,950
Fairfield County, CT$425,000
Middlesex County, MA$389,900
Boston, MA$371,900
Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, MD$366,250
Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV$362,990
Seattle, WA$340,850
Peabody, MA$339,900
Sacramento, CA$319,000
Newark, NJ-PA$299,000
Edison-New Brunswick, NJ$299,000
Denver, CO$295,000
Riverside-San Bernardino, CA$275,000
Portland, OR-WA$269,500
Baltimore, MD$255,000
Providence, RI-MA$234,000
Worcester, MA$229,851
Fresno, CA$229,000
Phoenix, AZ$225,000
Tacoma, WA$225,000
Wilmington, DE-MD-NJ$225,000
Colorado Springs, CO$219,900
Hartford, CT$214,900
Bakersfield, CA$199,900
New Haven, CT$195,000
Chicago, IL$194,900
Springfield, MA$190,000
Lake County-Kenosha County, IL-WI$189,900
Las Vegas, NV$184,900
Albuquerque, NM$182,000
Camden, NJ$175,150
Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, MI$154,900
Grand Rapids, MI$119,900
Detroit, MI$73,000
Source: Trulia.com

But it's all relative, depending on where marijuana refugees hail from. "It's ridiculous how much more space we're getting," said Fornbacher, who has narrowed her house hunt to the Denver suburbs. "Freedom is priceless, but the cost of living in Colorado doesn't seem that extraordinary compared to New Jersey, which has some of the highest real estate taxes in the country."

States may not be able to count on residents to put down roots, however. Advocates say they hope that it will be a matter of just a few years before interstate moves aren't necessary -- and many of those moving said they'd go back if laws change. "I want to come home," Fornbacher said. "Moving breaks my heart, because this is the home we wanted to keep. I resent having to leave."

Realm of Caring Foundation opened up a waiting list in late January for people who want to receive Charlotte's Web once it's legally available in their home state. "Within hours of putting that up, we had 580 U.S. residents and 60 more international sign up," Figi said. The foundation has also been working to license dispensaries in seven more medical marijuana states.

Barnhart has been focused on the recent Florida Supreme Court ruling that will put an amendment to legalize marijuana for medical use on the ballot in November. "So we have eight months to beg people in Florida to vote for it," she said. And if it passes? "We'll be home with our family and friends the day they initiate it."

More from CNBC

Feb 5, 2014 2:38PM
Legalize it nationwide, absurd people have to move to get treatment. Medicinal use is coming to Florida, on the 2014 ballot.
Feb 5, 2014 2:52PM
All of the old farts scared to death of a little weed are going to have to change their ways. Getting drunk, crashing cars and beating your wife isn't the cool thing to do anymore.
Feb 5, 2014 2:56PM
Feb 5, 2014 3:08PM
it is ridiculous that this is not legal in ALL states...this is the UNITED states of America right?  This can help people medicinally in MANY ways.  Research it!!!  So many people could reverse their diseases and get off disability and go back to work..most people look at legalization and think about a bunch of stoners. That is the myth of legalized marijuana and what the government wants you to think of!  Juicing the leaves had CBD in them...it heals and reverses cancer and autoimmune disorders. Wake up people and realize this plant can help us in many ways.  Even the hemp itself can be used for energy and fuel.  But as long as the plant is illegal, it can't be used in any way.  So we depend on Arab nations for fuel...dumb.  We have the answers right here and we ignore them.  Just research it and educate yourselves.  So much depends on this being legal in all the states!
Feb 5, 2014 3:21PM
It is obvious there are some minions here protecting the private prison industry, alcohol, tobacco, big pharma, etc. They spew lies that just show ignorance. Marijuana is safer and healthier than pharmaceuticals, alcohol and tobacco. But then again there are this powerfull industries behind all of these lies.
legalize it--let people grow their own-when 100 ton boat loads were coming in to Jacksonville and Miami the price was 15.00 per ounce all day long. prohibition made it illegal and expensive.let freedom ring once again in America.  todays jacked up price is morally wrong. let supply fulfill demand and every one who seeks to partake will not get ripped off. make this happen people.
Feb 5, 2014 3:13PM
Oh this is just the beginning!   These states that have legalized marijauan are going to BOOM!  All the cannabis businesses need workers-JOB CREATION;  all the cannabis businesses need supplies for the business-those businesses will need more workers-more JOB CREATION; the money is starting to roll in from the taxes-more money for their state-more people are going to move to these states-which will boost the real estate market-as more people move to these states, there will be more taxpayers living there-this will increase the state's tax base-as these states prosper beyond belief, other states that aren't doing well are going to start changing their minds and wanting all those $$$$$$.  I think it is absolutely crazy that you can do something in one state and it's fine, but in another state it would put you in jail!  We are the UNITED STATES, not a bunch of separate little countries-and federal law will eventually follow, they will just probably throw in some kind of extra federal tax so they can get a piece of the pie-the first bricks in the wall of lies and repression about marijuana have come down-the rest will come CRASHING down as more realize just how the government has lied to us, imprisoned people (for PROFIT) and I hope I live to see the day when "reefer madness" is a thing of the past. 
Feb 5, 2014 3:32PM
pot doesnt lead to harder drugs, alcohol leads to harder drugs. ask me, i am an alcoholic who no longer uses hard drugs as i have no need to stay up all night and drink. that was the main reason i ever started any heavy drug. marijuana helps me every day to stay off the bottle. id rather have that than be a loser drunk,who cant hold a job, anyday!
Feb 5, 2014 3:18PM

Since the article last week that estimated $250,000 a day tax intake from sales in CO you can bet other states are looking at this closely. Some are most likely trying to get an estimate of potential consumers in their state to estimate the revenue potential.

It won't be long before more states follow CO & WA's lead. Some states will be hold outs while others get right on it for the revenue. $250,000 X 365= $91,250,000 a year. There's not a politician alive that wouldn't love to get their hands on that kind of money. If used properly it could wean some states off the government teat and therefore lower our federal budget possibly even allowing us to start paying off our national debt.

Lowering federal spending has to start from the bottom up with cities and counties using less fed money and more of their own, same at the state level will allow spending less at the fed level.

Feb 5, 2014 2:38PM

Oregon may be next.  Check out these marijuana-related stocks:




Feb 5, 2014 2:46PM
Reality check come spring for sale sign comes out  on this house webster an im out of New York . Allready bought house in boulder co .NY taxs just went up 27 percent one year while assemnent stayed same
Feb 5, 2014 3:48PM
The government has no business sticking their nose into a subject like this in the first place. Wasting peoples hard earned tax money to bust people smoking a harmless plant is stupid.
Feb 5, 2014 3:05PM
why the hell is Camden NJ in that median home sales prices?? I wouldnt buy a house there...FOR FREE!!!!!
Feb 5, 2014 3:12PM

Missouri has a petition approved that needs 150,000 signatures, of registered voters. It needs to be verified and turned in by May 5, 2014. If we can do this Missouri residents will be allowed to vote for legalized recreational Marijuana in 2014. A professional survey shows that 60% of Missourians would vote in favor. If you live in Missouri get registered to vote and sign the petition for freedom.


On another point a bill to legalize marijuana along the same lines as alcohol was introduced in the house by (D) Chris Kelly. Tim Jones, the house speaker, again refuses to assign it to committee. Therefore this bill is dead.


If you would like to know more about signing the petition to legalize, tax, and control, marijuana for adults over 21, in Missouri. Go to "Show me cannabis" and sign up for the news letter.  

  End prohibition in Missouri.

Feb 5, 2014 2:46PM
...and people and businesses who make money are leaving heavy taxation states and moving to states with Zero Taxes.  C ya.  California meet Detroit.
Feb 5, 2014 3:44PM
Weed was outlawed at a federal level because it had no medical value, ok so now why is it still illegal ? The founding fathers warned us of an all too powerful federal government. You low info voters better do your homework before you vote for anything or anybody who will increase the power of the feds. History, is it your best friend or your worst enemy?
Feb 5, 2014 3:20PM

1.2 millions dollars added to Colorado's state coffers....in one month.  Our state is booming with jobs and infrastructure spending.  We (Denver) do have a Democratic govenor and mayor...that might explain why things in Denver are booming. 

Sorry a$$ poor red states with republican govenors are going down, down, down.  Get on the bandwagon America.

Feb 5, 2014 3:10PM
So many old backward a** people that want to be miserable and everyone else the same. We haven't been the land of the free in decades. At least we're still the brave. Well accept for all the old sheep that can't think for themselves
Feb 5, 2014 3:51PM
Good for them - if people can move to states for gay marriage, why shouldn't they be able to move for legal weed?
Feb 5, 2014 4:07PM
The reality of legalization is unscrupulous politicians playing you for the sake of a vote & to line their pockets in the process.  
& here come the sheep!
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