States with legal medical marijuana have more people over age 50 in the workforce—and they're working longer hours.
The correlation is noted in a study published last month by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Temple University, who analyzed 20 years of data from the national Health and Retirement Study, an annual survey of Americans over 50.
"The enactment of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 9.4 percent increase in the probability of employment and a 4.6 to 4.9 percent increase in the hours worked per week," write researchers Lauren Hersch Nicholas and Johanna Catherina Maclean.
As of 2016, 25 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to legalize medical marijuana, though the laws differ in terms of which medical conditions are eligible to be treated with marijuana as well as how the drug can be accessed. Studies have shown marijuana to be an effective treatment for pain, anxiety, depression, nausea and sleep disorders, Nicholas and Maclean say. Those kinds of conditions are often chronic and worsen as a person ages, so better treatment options can help older workers say on the job.
That, in turn, puts less stress on welfare and disability programs.
"These effects should be considered as policymakers determine how best to regulate access to medical marijuana," Nicholas and Maclean conclude.
For this study, researchers reviewed workforce data from 1992 through 2012, comparing participation rates before and after those states decided to legalize medical marijuana.
"This study contributes to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that regulating cannabis access is associated with a variety of unanticipated yet positive health and societal outcomes, such as decreased rates of opioid addiction and mortality, fewer workplace absences and reduced Medicare costs," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, a national pro-legalization marijuana policy organization, in an email to Reason.
There are nine states with marijuana initiatives on the ballot next month. Of those, there are three—Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota—asking voters to decide whether marijuana should be legalized for the treatment of medical conditions.