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Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Are Saving Lives, But Could Save More


dispensary michigan medical marijuana legalize regulateA new working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals states with active medical marijuana dispensary systems are cutting 7% of illegal opioid deaths annually- but states with legalized dispensaries cut that rate by 20%.

The working paper titled, ‘DO MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS REDUCE ADDICTIONS AND DEATHS RELATED TO PAIN KILLERS?’ was written by David Powell, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Mireille Jacobson. It was published on the NBER website in July of 2015.

Powell and Pacula work for the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California; Jacobson works at the University of California – Irvine. All three are credited as being with the NBER. The Working Paper was funded by the RAND Corporation via a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“If marijuana is used as a substitute for powerful and addictive pain relievers in medical marijuana states, a potential overlooked positive impact of medical marijuana laws may be a reduction in harms associated with opioid pain relievers, a far more addictive and potentially deadly substance,” the Abstract begins.

After a detail on methodology, the Abstract concludes: “we find that states permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not. We find no impact of medical marijuana laws more broadly; the mitigating effect of medical marijuana laws is specific to states that permit dispensaries.”

In the body of the Paper the authors cite a previous study by Bachuber et al, from 2014, which found “age-adjusted opiate mortality decreased in states that adopted medical marijuana laws”.

The authors looked further into the data and differentiated the states which have authorized medical marijuana into those with legalized distribution of marijuana through ‘dispensaries,’ and those without legalized dispensary systems. Further, they identified states with dispensary systems that were active but not authorized by law; Michigan fell into this grouping.

Their conclusions: merely having medical marijuana laws on the books does not reduce substance abuse or mortality, but the authors found “strong evidence that medical marijuana laws legalizing dispensaries reduce substance abuse treatments for opioids.”

The Paper cites a 15% decrease in treatment admissions in those states, with a 16% decrease in deaths from opioids. Those numbers could both be higher- up to 31% reduction in mortality- if a different control model is utilized. These results occur “only in states with dispensaries and not in the broader group of medical marijuana states.”

The authors dug deeper, looking at the nature of opioid distribution in those states with dispensaries. They discovered that those states with legalized distribution of marijuana were not experiencing a decrease in legal opioid distribution, suggesting that “legalized medical marijuana distribution replaces illegal opioid acquisition and use.”

States like Michigan with ‘active’ dispensary models (non-legal) experienced no statistically significant change in opioid treatment, but those states with legalized dispensaries saw a 28% decrease in treatment, and a 35% decrease in overall substance abuse treatment admissions, a number that jumps to a 53% reduction when criminal justice referrals are excluded from the sample data. Legal dispensary states experienced a 31% reduction in deaths from overdose due to opioids, leading the researchers to say the have “strong, consistent evidence” linking legalized distribution of medical marijuana to saving lives from opioid overdose.

The authors clearly state that this effect “grows in magnitude over time,” paralleling the growth of medical marijuana markets in those states with them, implying that medical marijuana dispensaries may be the long-term solution to the national scourge of illegal opioid deaths that Americans have been searching for.

The Working Paper is the latest in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper Series. It is © 2015 by David Powell, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, and Mireille Jacobson. All rights reserved.

The working paper is available for download at the NBER website. The cost is $5.00.

Source: The Compassion Chronicles


About Author

"Rick Thompson was the Editor in Chief for the entire 2-year run of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, was the spokesman for the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers and is the current Editor and Lead Blogger for The Compassion Chronicles. Rick has addressed committees in both the House and Senate, has authored over 200 articles on marijuana and is a professional photographer." Rick Thompson Is An Author At The Compassion Chronicles and focuses on all things Michigan.


  1. PhDScientist on

    I’m deeply concerned about the slow pace of getting change to happen at the Federal level.
    The current situation is unacceptable and morally indefensible.
    Given what we know about Medical Marijuana’s safety profile, there’s no justifiable reason to have it on any Schedule at all, let alone Schedule 1.
    Its incredibly safe — It has a far wider therapeutic index than any over the counter pain reliever.
    Its a life saving medicine for Kids with Seizure disorders and its a “Wonder Drug” for Cancer patients going through Chemo and for helping them deal with Cancer’s pain.
    Legalizing Medical Marijuana at the federal level, so it can be prescribed on the same basis as all other medications isn’t just the right thing to do, its a moral imperative of the highest order and its both incredibly important, and incredibly urgent that the government remove it from Schedule 1 immediately.

  2. PhDScientist on

    There’s an urgent need to get policy changed at the federal level. The current situation is unacceptable and unjustifiable. To quote Dr. Sanjay Gupta, “Medical Marijuana isn’t just ‘Good Medicine’ — In many cases its the only medicine that works”

    If everyone in America who wants Medical Marijuana legalized were to call the white house comment line every day, its hard to imagine how the President could make any other decision than to move to have it taken off of Schedule 1 immediately.

    82% of Oncologists want their Cancer patients to be able to use Medical Marijuana. For American kids with Dravet’s Syndrome, its a matter of life and death. With Medical Marijuana they live. Without it they die.

    If those aren’t strong enough reasons for the government to take immediate action to take Marijuana off of Schedule 1, what could be?

    Kudos to this blog, to the people who read it, to those who post here, to NORML, to ASA, to LEAP, and to everyone, and every organization, working to help Americans who need Medical Marijuana to be safely and legally get it in all 50 states.

    Moral imperatives don’t get any stronger stronger than than this.

  3. Lawrence Goodwin on

    If this study proves true in the long term, then it’s clear that right now we are witnessing major fraud, unconstitutional violations and even crimes against humanity perpetrated by pharmaceutical companies. Somebody in the media, please break this story. Make politicians face the truth. Follow the money back to the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act; document all of the involved companies and their products; look at all related political contributions, and the systemic corruption will be clear as day. It’s outrageous that so many drug companies are still legally allowed to produce synthetic PILLS that mimic compounds in opium poppies, but ANY traffic or consumption of the plants’ natural raw materials are labeled as crimes. They tried the same damned thing with the famed THC from cannabis flowers, only to be resoundingly denied high profits when the pills failed to gain much popularity. Most, if not all medicine was plant-based prior to the rise of pharmaceutical companies in the early 1900s. I think they are part of a powerful corporate tyranny ripping asunder the entire social fabric of America–by design.

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