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Medical marijuana laws and their effect on opioid related mortality


  • Susan Averett

    () (Lafayette college)

  • Emily Smith

    () (Lafayette College)


The U.S. is currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic. In 2015, an estimated 12.5 million people misused opioid prescriptions. In 2016 alone, approximately 62,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. The enactment of medical marijuana laws may help stem the rise in these deaths if medical marijuana can be used as a substitute for more powerful opioid pain relievers. Currently, 29 states have some form of a medical marijuana law in place, with California being the first in 1996 and West Virginia being the most recent in 2017. In this study, we use state level data from the Centers for Disease Control to test the hypothesis that medical marijuana can act as a prescribed substitute for opioid pain relievers and have the potential benefit of reducing deaths related to opioids in states with these laws. We use a difference-in-difference framework that takes advantage of variation in the timing of the enactment of these laws across states to identify whether they affect opioid-related death rates. Unlike previous work, we find little evidence that the enactment of MMLs has reduced opioid death rates. However, we do find that the presence of a legal dispensary may reduce opioid deaths. This information is useful for policymakers who are increasingly looking for policies to reduce opioid deaths.

Suggested Citation

  • Susan Averett & Emily Smith, 2019. "Medical marijuana laws and their effect on opioid related mortality," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 39(1), pages 347-357.
  • Handle: RePEc:ebl:ecbull:eb-18-00583

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2013.301612_8 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Powell, David & Pacula, Rosalie Liccardo & Jacobson, Mireille, 2018. "Do medical marijuana laws reduce addictions and deaths related to pain killers?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 29-42.
    3. repec:oup:alecon:v:17:y:2015:i:2:p:495-528. is not listed on IDEAS
    4. D. Mark Anderson & Benjamin Hansen & Daniel I. Rees, 2015. "Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 495-528.
    5. Chu, Yu-Wei Luke, 2014. "The effects of medical marijuana laws on illegal marijuana use," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 43-61.
    6. D. Mark Anderson & Benjamin Hansen & Daniel I. Rees, 2013. "Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(2), pages 333-369.
    7. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2012.301117_2 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Is Marijuana a Gateway to Opioids?
      by Jacob Sullum in Hit & Run blog on 2019-04-15 16:00:51
    2. Does Medical Marijuana Reduce Opioid-Related Deaths or Not?
      by Jacob Sullum in Hit & Run blog on 2019-06-11 21:15:01

    More about this item


    opioid deaths; medical marijuana laws; event study; dispensary;

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics


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