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Smoke Signals and Mixed Messages: Medical Marijuana & Drug Policy Signalling Effects


  • Niko De Silva

    () (QUT)

  • Benno Torgler

    () (QUT)


Liberal drug policy reform is often criticized for 'sending the wrong message', particularly to youth. Reform opponents argue that liberal policies such as decriminalisation and medical marijuana laws will cause marijuana to be perceived as less risky and lead to an increase in use. We seek to test this claim empirically, exploiting the timing and unique properties of state level medical marijuana laws in the US to isolate policy signalling effects. We use survey-derived state-level estimates of youths' marijuana risk-perceptions and use prevalence, and find evidence of signalling effects on aggregate risk-perceptions of marijuana use that correspond to the introduction of medical marijuana laws. These effects, however, do not conform to what reform opponents predict - medical marijuana provisions appear to send the 'right' message. Further, we find no robust effects on non-medical marijuana use.

Suggested Citation

  • Niko De Silva & Benno Torgler, 2011. "Smoke Signals and Mixed Messages: Medical Marijuana & Drug Policy Signalling Effects," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 272, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.
  • Handle: RePEc:qut:dpaper:272

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.

    More about this item


    Medical marijuana; drug policy; ballot initiatives; policy signalling;

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • Z19 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Other

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