Researchers from Montana State, the University of Colorado and San Diego State have released a discussion paper finding that states that have legalized medical cannabis have found a decrease in suicides, particularly among males in their 20s. The paper, “High on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide” found a nearly 5% decrease in suicides among the medical cannabis states. The suicide rate among males in their 20s dropped 11%, while men in their 30s decreased by 9%. The researchers concluded that, “the legalization of medical marijuana leads to an improvement in the psychological well-being of young adult males, an improvement reflected in fewer suicides.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide ranked as the 11th most likely cause of death in the United States in 2006, with over 34,000 deaths. The study noted that the relationship between cannabis and mental health had been debated by proponents and opponents of medical cannabis laws. This statistically significant decrease in the number of such deaths should be utilized by voters, politicians and policy makers when considering enacting medical cannabis laws or implementing reforms of existing laws.
The researchers also noted that previous studies concluded that medical cannabis decreased the use of alcohol and that alcohol consumption itself was related to increased suicide rates. The alcohol substitution theory is gaining momentum; this study follows a recent study demonstrating that medical cannabis states have demonstrated a decrease in fatal automobile accidents. In November of 2011, economists D. Mark Anderson and Daniel Rees released a study showing a 9% reduction in traffic deaths, concluding that their “estimates provide strong evidence that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.”
Another example of a state enacting a medical cannabis law and not experiencing the increased dangers expected is the fact that workplace accidents in Oregon have decreased dramatically since the state legalized medical cannabis in 1998. In fact, the most recent numbers released by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Affairs in 2009 demonstrated that the rate of workplace accidents were at “the lowest ever recorded” as the state experienced 4.4 workplace accidents and illnesses per 100 full-time workers compared to the 7.0 recorded in 1999. Surprising many, as the number of medical cannabis patients has increased, the number of workplace accidents has actually decreased.
Many opponents of reforming our cannabis laws have proclaimed that such laws would make citizens less safe at work and on the roads. Dakota County, Minnesota, Attorney Jack Backstrom went so far in an op-ed to declare cannabis as “the most dangerous illegal drug in our nation.” The Office of National Drug Control Policy argues that cannabis legalization “threatens public health.” If the experience of medical cannabis states are any indication and policy makers actually care about the facts, the science and statistics are demonstrating that liberalizing our cannabis laws not only does not place us in more danger but may actually make us safer.