A new study conducted by the RAND Corporation and published by the Journal of Health Economics has found that although medical marijuana legalization is associated with a decrease in opioid deaths, this is only true in states that have legalized dispensaries.
“The association between medical marijuana and lower levels of opioid overdose deaths — identified previously in several studies — is more complex than previously described and appears to be changing as both medical marijuana laws and the opioid crisis evolve”, says the Rand Corporation, whose new study is “the most-detailed examination of medical marijuana and opioid deaths conducted to date”.
The report found that “legalizing medical marijuana was associated with lower levels of opioid deaths only in states that had provisions for dispensaries that made medical marijuana easily available to patients.” Opioid death rates were not lower in states that just provided legal protections to patients and caregivers, allowing them to grow their own marijuana.
“Our findings are consistent with previous studies showing an association between the legalization of medical marijuana and lower deaths from overdoses of opioids,” said Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-author of the study and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. “However, our findings show that the mechanism for this was loosely regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, and that the association between these laws and opioid mortality has declined over time as state laws have more tightly regulated medical dispensaries and the opioid crisis shifted from prescription opioids to heroin and fentanyl”.
The study was conducted before any any states had begun to allow retail sales of recreational marijuana.