What Effect Do Medical Marijuana Laws Have on Illicit Drug Activity?
Murray, Patrick Larkin
Ever since the state of California adopted the first law permitting the medical usage of marijuana in 1996, opponents of the legislation have expressed concerns that such state laws could lead to increased drug use among the general public. This paper uses variation in the timing of these laws to determine if their passage is correlated with increases in illicit drug activity, as measured by arrests and self-reported usage, while controlling for fixed and linear effects as well as state demographic characteristics that vary from year to year. While previous studies have attempted to measure the relationship between medical marijuana laws and drug use, none simultaneously use fixed effects and demographic controls, both of which control for state variation across time and help isolate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and illicit drug activity. Using data from 1997-2009 for drug crimes and 2002-2009 for drug usage, my research does not find a relationship between the passage of medical marijuana laws and changes in illicit activity for either marijuana or hard drugs. Dynamic estimates show that a brief increase in marijuana crimes within a state may exist in the year following passage of a law. My findings suggest that fears about medical marijuana laws leading to increased drug activity may be overblown. Moving forward, I recommend that policymakers consider creating more comprehensive databases of drug-related arrests. More research is also needed on whether medical marijuana laws have an effect on state expenditures in healthcare and law enforcement.
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