Shutterstock

The other substitution effect is worth some study. 

One of the most important questions about legal marijuana is this: Will it be a substitute for booze, or a complement?

Typically, marijuana users are less dangerous than their boozy counterparts. While neither the heavily stoned nor the drunk are safe drivers, the latter is more prone to violence. (Criminologist Mark Kleiman calls alcohol "the #1 date-rape drug.") We should want people who are of legal age and sound mind to choose marijuana over alcohol; and we should want them to never mix the two.

And that's not the only thing we should be rooting for. Prescription painkillers, while helpful when taken correctly, are incredibly dangerous when not. If it's reasonable to want people to use marijuana at the expense of alcohol, it's fair to say that, when and where feasible, we should want them to do the same with prescription opioids. (There's also a case for using marijuana and MDMA, rather than pills, to treat PTSD; but that's for another post.) 

The logic of medical substitution, at least, appeals to West Virginians. Today, the Marijuana Policy Project released poll results [PDF] showing 56 percent of West Virginians support legalizing medical marijuana. That's an increase of three percentage points over a January 2013 poll [PDF] asking the same question. At the same time, opposition to medical marijuana in West Virginia has fallen six percentage points, from 40 percent in January 2013 down to 34 percent today. 

West Virginians—currently experiencing the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the U.S.—are also convinced by a huge margin that marijuana is safer than the prescription painkiller Oxycontin. The below map explains why West Virginians might feel that way:

Drug Overdose Rates by State, 2008. Courtesy of the CDC


 

Here are the top line results for the Oxy versus Marijuana question in 2013: 

Which do you believe is a safer treatment for debilitating pain: the medical use of marijuana or Oxycontin?
 
Marijuana: 63%
 
Oxycontin: 22%
 
No opinion/Don't know: 15% 
And here are the responses from January 2014: 
Which do you believe is a safer treatment for debilitating pain: the medical use of marijuana or OxyContin?
 
Medical use of marijuana:  57% 
 
OxyContin: 16%
 
Equally safe: 6%
 
Not sure: 21% 

The second poll offers respondents the chance to select "equally safe," which may explain why slightly fewer people saw marijuana as safer than Oxy the second time around.

I hadn't seen the Oxy question on any other state MPP poll, so I emailed Mason Tvert ("the Don Draper of pot") to ask if contrasting marijuana and Oxy was integral to advancing medical marijuana laws.

"At this point, three out of four Americans recognize that marijuana has legitimate medical benefits," Tvert writes back. "Whether people recognize that marijuana is safer than Oxycontin is not critical to the advancement of sensible medical marijuana policies. It is just one reason among many to support them."

I have no idea for how many ailments marijuana would be a better treatment than prescription opioids, and hoping for a substitution effect is nowhere near as effective as making life-saving drugs like Naloxone (the overdoser's equivalent to the EpiPen) available over the counter.

But at the very least, it would be great if we saw more people substituting marijuana for recreational opioid use. Hopefully the reforms in Colorado and Washington will prove valuable for that reason as well.

Top image: Some pills. Shutterstock.com/Brian Goodman

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A woman looks straight at camera with others people and trees in background.
    Equity

    Why Pittsburgh Is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts

    Pittsburgh is the worst place for black women to live in for just about every indicator of livability, says the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

  2. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  3. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  4. Groups of people look at their phones while sitting in Washington Square Park in Manhattan.
    Life

    How Socially Integrated Is Your City? Ask Twitter.

    Using geotagged tweets, researchers found four types of social connectedness in big U.S. cities, exemplified by New York, San Francisco, Detroit, and Miami.

  5. a photo of a child drawing an anti-Amazon protest sign at the Climate Strike march in San Francisco.
    Environment

    Why Climate Strike Protesters Targeted Amazon Go

    Amazon’s automated convenience store became a meeting point—physically and philosophically—for climate and labor protesters on Friday.

×