Social Security Disability Insurance claims rose 9.9% following the passage of a medical marijuana law.
Medical marijuana laws are becoming more popular across the country, but legalizing the drug for medicinal purposes can have a major unintended consequence.
State medical marijuana laws lead to an increase in the probability that people will make Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims, according to a new working paper from researchers at Temple University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cincinnati. The tendency to make an SSDI claim rose 9.9% following the passage of a medical marijuana law, while actual SSDI benefits rose by 2.6%. The report, which was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, used data from the Current Population Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to produce its findings.
The researchers also studied the effect state laws on medical marijuana had on workers’ compensation (WC) claims. While their analysis did not produce any statistically significant evidence on these claims, the researchers said the data suggested generally that the laws do cause an increase. “Expanding marijuana access has negative spillover effects to costly social programs that disincentive work,” the researchers wrote.
Consequently, medical marijuana laws could have a major impact on these already-costly social insurance programs were they to become even more prevalent. So far, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana to treat a host of illnesses ranging from cancer and glaucoma to chronic pain disorders and epilepsy. As of 2016, the SSDI and workers’ compensation programs cost the government and employers roughly $208 billion annually.
And while older adults are more likely to suffer from many of the conditions medical marijuana is prescribed for, they aren’t more likely to file a disability claim. The researchers reported no statistically significant evidence that medical marijuana laws resulted in a change in benefits claims among older adults between the ages of 41 and 62. That wasn’t true of their younger peers between the ages of 23 and 40. For them, the passage of medical marijuana laws led to a 24% increase in the probability of making SSDI claims and a 15% increase in the likelihood of workers’ compensation claims.
The researchers could not determine a specific reason why the laws led to an increase in disability claims. Medical marijuana could be more effective than other medications at reducing symptoms of certain illnesses — but cannabis can come with its own side-effects including lack of concentration, dizziness and headaches, among others. These side-effects could make people less capable of performing their jobs. Additionally, the researchers said it is plausible that use of marijuana on the job or “hangover” effects could increase the risk of work-related injury, which in turn could lead to a disability claim. Some workers may also choose to claim these social insurance benefits rather than work if their use of medical marijuana hampers their productivity and lowers their wages.
Medical marijuana also could have an impact on employment to the extent that employers require drug testing. State laws vary widely regarding whether an employer can fire an employee for marijuana use even if they were prescribed to take it for medicinal purposes. And because the science regarding medical marijuana’s effectiveness is not clear, fired workers will have a hard time arguing wrongful termination cases, as Vice News and MedPage Today reported.
An increase in disability claims wouldn’t be the only effect of more liberal cannabis laws. A previous working paper distributed by the NBER found that looser marijuana laws appeared to reduce cocaine and heroin use and the number of illness-related absences among teenagers. And while research regarding medical marijuana is limited, for people with certain medical conditions it does appear to reduce symptoms significantly. Studies have shown that it can treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. Other research has indicated that it can reduce the muscle stiffness and pain experienced by people with multiple sclerosis.
However, the legalization of marijuana has demonstrated some additional adverse effects. For instance, the number of traffic deaths because of drivers under the influence of marijuana in Washington state doubled in the year after the drugs became legal recreationally.