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Medical marijuana could save taxpayers $1 billion on prescription drugs, study says

A new study released on the eve of 4/20 found that if all 50 states permitted medical marijuana, it would save U.S. taxpayers more than a billion dollars annually as sick people switch from prescription drugs to pot to cure what ails them.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs by a father-daughter research team from the University of Georgia, compared 2014 Medicaid prescription-drug spending in states with medical marijuana laws to states where weed is still strictly illegal. The analysis revealed “statistically and economically meaningful reductions in prescription drug use” in states with medical weed.


The researchers, public policy professor David Bradford and master’s student Ashley Bradford, wrote that the findings “suggest that patients and physicians in the community are reacting to the availability of medical marijuana as if it were medicine,” not just as a way to get stoned. They noted that until now, “almost nothing” was known about how state medical marijuana policies affect health care spending.

Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C., now permit some form of medical marijuana. For the study, the Bradfords examined Medicaid prescription drug spending nationwide from 2007-2014, looking specifically at drugs that are used to treat clinical conditions “for which marijuana might be a potential alternative treatment.”

The results are striking. In states with medical pot, the number of pharmaceutical prescriptions for anti-depression drugs fell by 13 percent. It was a 17 percent drop for nausea drugs, 12 percent for psychosis medications, and 11 percent for prescription pain pills. Altogether, the Bradfords concluded that if every state in 2014 had medical marijuana, overall Medicaid spending would have been cut by a whopping $1.01 billion.

The Bradfords noted that their work “adds to the literature that shows the potential clinical benefits of marijuana.” Despite widespread evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for multiple conditions, it remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, the same restrictive category as heroin and other drugs with “no currently accepted medical use.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to change the federal status of marijuana, and he’s said the drug’s medical benefits have “been hyped, maybe too much.” The American public strongly disagrees: A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that 93 percent of voters support medical marijuana when it’s prescribed by a doctor.