Marijuana nationwide: UA student maps prices
Monica Stephens, a Ph.D. candidate in the UA School of Geography and Development, created a map showing the retail price of marijuana throughout the country. Stephens went to the University of Kentucky in January to research and work with the founder of FloatingSheep, an organization looking at digital space and data in every day life. Stephens and other FloatingSheep colleagues started the map in April and have continued to work on the graphic design and accompanying article. The map was featured in Wired magazine.
Daily Wildcat: What conclusions can you draw from the map?
Monica Stephens: We statistically proved that the strongest influence on marijuana pricing is based on the medical marijuana program in the state. Criminal penalties had very little effect. There seems to be some kind of public acceptance created through medical marijuana programs. We also had some joke conclusions, like the map kind of replicates it’s more expensive in more obese states. In areas where marijuana is normalized like Humbolt County and Appalachia where it’s a strong part of economy, it’s actually cheapest.
How did the idea for a marijuana map originate?
Last fall I was teaching a UA Geography 416a computer cartography course. I talk about crowd sourcing and I’ll show this map from a website called priceofweed.com where they crowd source all the data. My colleagues from FloatingSheep, Matt (Zook) and Mark (Graham) and I, were talking about site. At that time we realized the data was totally open, so we harvested all of the data. We sent an email telling them we wanted to map it all. They replied and said, “That sounds great,” and sent us all of their data. We had all of the records that were ever submitted. This is a way we can study underground economies which are unstudyable otherwise. In another study it’d be more localized and a small sample size. I thought this would be a blog post. I had no idea it’d be much bigger.
What’s the benefit of studying underground economies?
They exist, and they aren’t studied. We make all of these assumptions about them. In some cases, they can be 12 to 40 percent of the economy and yet we know nothing about them.
What was the methodology used to create the map?
(Priceofweed.com users anonymously submit the location, the price paid, quantity they purchased and the quality of the marijuana). The site has existed about a year or less than a year. There were about 16,700 records. Through data cleaning we reduced it to 14,000 and cleaned further to 12,000. When running statistics we look at the state level. There are interesting dynamics at the local level and diverse topographies of this. There’s no price setting at a larger level. The price in California doesn’t influence price in Georgia necessarily. Statistics are all based on the level of high-quality weed.
Are there any other underground economies you are looking to study?
We do a lot of economic geographies of cyberspace. I’ve been doing a lot recently on where busted meth labs are. It’s based on what data is out there, easy to collect and relevant to collect. Things like human trafficking and migration is much harder to study than marijuana pricing.