Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addictions and Deaths Related to Pain Killers?

Published in: Journal of Health Economics Volume 58 (March 2018), Pages 29-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2017.12.007

Posted on RAND.org on February 08, 2018

by David Powell, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Mireille Jacobson

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Access further information on this document at Journal of Health Economics Volume 58 (March 2018)

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Research Question

  1. Do medical marijuana laws reduce addictions and deaths related to pain killers?

Recent work finds that medical marijuana laws reduce the daily doses filled for opioid analgesics among Medicare Part-D and Medicaid enrollees, as well as population-wide opioid overdose deaths. We replicate the result for opioid overdose deaths and explore the potential mechanism. The key feature of a medical marijuana law that facilitates a reduction in overdose death rates is a relatively liberal allowance for dispensaries. As states have become more stringent in their regulation of dispensaries, the protective value generally has fallen. These findings suggest that broader access to medical marijuana facilitates substitution of marijuana for powerful and addictive opioids.

Key Findings

  • The relationship between medical marijuana laws and reductions in opioid overdoses is complex.
  • Medical marijuana laws vary in their effect on reducing opioid overdoses.
  • States with medical marijuana dispensaries experienced reductions in opioid-related overdoses.
  • As states have become more stringent in regulating dispensaries, the protective value of medical marijuana laws generally has fallen.
  • These findings suggest that broader access to medical marijuana facilitates substitution of marijuana for powerful and addictive opioids.

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