The Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization and Dispensing on Opioid Mortality

18 Pages Posted: 14 May 2020

See all articles by Nathan Chan

Nathan Chan

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jesse Burkhardt

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Colorado State University

Matthew Flyr

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Colorado State University

Date Written: April 2020

Abstract

This study documents how the changing legal status of marijuana has impacted mortality in the United States over the past two decades. We use a difference‐in‐difference approach to estimate the effect of medical marijuana laws (MML) and recreational marijuana laws (RML) on fatalities from opioid overdoses, and we find that marijuana access induces sharp reductions in opioid mortality rates. Our research corroborates prior findings on MMLs and offers the first causal estimates of RML impacts on opioid mortality to date, the latter of which is particularly important given that RMLs are far more expansive in scope and reach than MMLs. In our preferred econometric specification, we estimate that RMLs reduce annual opioid mortality in the range of 20%–35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids. In further analysis, we demonstrate how RML impacts vary among demographic groups, shedding light on the distributional consequences of these laws. Our findings are especially important and timely given the scale of the opioid crisis in the United States and simultaneously evolving attitudes and regulations on marijuana use.

JEL Classification: I18, K32, H75

Suggested Citation

Chan, Nathan and Burkhardt, Jesse and Flyr, Matthew, The Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization and Dispensing on Opioid Mortality (April 2020). Economic Inquiry, Vol. 58, Issue 2, pp. 589-606, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3596416 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ecin.12819

Nathan Chan (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jesse Burkhardt

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Colorado State University ( email )

Department of Economics
Fort Collins, CO 80253-1771
United States

Matthew Flyr

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Colorado State University

Department of Economics
Fort Collins, CO 80253-1771
United States

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