Legal Marijuana Good for U.S. Innovation, Study Suggests

A new study shows that more liberal social policies, including the legalization of medical marijuana, are associated with greater innovation output.

The implementation of social liberalization policies like the legalization of medical marijuana produces greater innovations, according to the findings in a new study published in Strategic Management Journal. The research indicates that U.S. states that implemented a laxer policy on medical cannabis use was associated with individuals working with 22 percent more new collaborators as well as greater rates of innovation.

A pair of researchers — Keyvan Vakili from London Business School and Laurina Zhang from the Georgia Institute of Technology — investigated the impact of two state-level liberal policies, including the legalization of medical marijuana and same-sex marriage, and one anti-liberalization policy, which was the passage of abortion restrictions, on the rate of innovation.

They measured innovation output as the number of patents granted in each U.S. state between 1990 and 2007 and compared those values to each state’s social policies during that time period.

The study found that states that legalized medical marijuana or same-sex marriage saw an increase in their patenting rate compared to states that did not. The passing of the one anti-liberalization policy was associated with a reduction in patenting.

The implementation of the two social liberalization policies was associated with an increase in innovation output by 5-6 percent. The passing of an additional abortion restriction caused an average 1 percent decline in innovation output.

“The results suggest that liberalization policies can increase the collaboration diversity of inventors, and hence, the rate, novelty, and impact of their innovation output, through promoting more liberal views and more openness to diversity,” the study’s summary reads.

Vakili and Zhang use the example of Silicon Valley, California, which they describe as a region that has managed to “achieve the levels of innovation” unmatched by other regions. While most places have tried to generate innovation through policy initiatives like research and development tax credits, public grants, and intellectual property support, the researchers suggest that the social policies of an area may make a more powerful impact. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 and was one of the first in the nation to allow same-sex marriage.

“Most innovations are the outcome of combining previously disconnected ideas,” wrote Vakili and Zhang.

“Scientists constantly borrow ideas from each other, recombine them in new ways, and build new theories. For ideas to flow and collide, the people who hold those ideas need to meet, mingle, talk, and share. Individuals with more diverse social interactions are exposed to a more diverse set of ideas, and thus have more opportunities to produce innovations from combining previously unconnected ideas.”

Full text of the new study, “High on creativity: The impact of social liberalization policies on innovation,” is available to access through Wiley Online Library.

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Where is Marijuana Legal?

In the U.S., marijuana remains illegal and prohibited under federal law. Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C., however, have passed their own policies permitting the use of medical marijuana. Eight of those states and Washington D.C. have gone a step further and legalized recreational marijuana.

While Barack Obama’s administration had established federal policies that permitted state-legal cannabis businesses to operate without much concern about federal interference, the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws have recently caused a clash with the Donald Trump administration.

Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that had directed federal prosecutors to not prioritize marijuana cases. He’s also attempted to remove federal medical marijuana protections, and although he’s said he doesn’t intend to go after “small marijuana cases,” he’s called for the death penalty to be implemented in larger ones.

Learn More About Marijuana Laws

You can learn more about marijuana laws in the U.S. by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis research through our news page.