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Legalization Linked To Fewer Workers’ Compensation Claims

Cannabis use is linked to a 20 percent reduction in workers’ comp claims, according to a new scientific study

Seattle Times

The benefits of using marijuana continue to become more apparent with continued scientific research. Following recreational Cannabis legalization, there’s a reduction of about 20 percent in the likelihood that employees 40 to 62 report any income from workers’ compensation, according to a new study.

Temple University professor Johanna Catherine Maclean, who led the study, is an economist who studies the impact of substance use on the labor market. Maclean’s recent research has focused on how medical and recreational marijuana legalization affects the ability to work productively. It uses the frequency of workers’ compensation claims as a measure, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Johanna Catherine Maclean

“These medical and recreational marijuana policies are quite new, so we have a lot more to learn,” Maclean said. “These are policies in motion.”

“We studied older adults, who we call 40 to 62, and looked at all self-reported workers’ compensation income,” Maclean explained. “We mainly focused on workers’ compensation because we viewed it as one proxy for work capacity, which we define as the ability to work productively.”

Maclean speculates this may occur because older workers are achieving symptom reduction through their Cannabis use.

“We don’t think that using marijuana is actually improving people’s health,” she said. “We think it may allow some of these older folks with chronic conditions to better manage their symptoms.”

“I think what’s happening is some people, in particular older people who are more likely to suffer from conditions with painful symptoms that impede work capacity, are using marijuana,” Maclean said. She added that older workers typically use Cannabis “to treat things like chronic pain, mental health conditions, sleep disorders, and so on and so forth,” Maclean said.

That makes these workers aged 40-62 less likely to miss work and apply for workers’ compensation.

Reducing Workers’ Compensation… And Prescriptions

We see changes in utilization of therapeutic substitutes, like opioids, in insurance claims data after legalization, according to the evidence, according to Maclean. That might mean, say, before you were using opioids to manage your chronic pain. But when we adopt a medical or recreational marijuana law, we see a reduction in prescriptions for refills for things like opioids.”

“There’s many states, like Pennsylvania, that have a medical law, but not a recreational law,” Maclean said. Qualifying health conditions are relatively restricted, and generic chronic pain isn’t often included. So there’s a belief that there are many people who could benefit from medical marijuana, but they’re not eligible.”

“Or perhaps there’s a stigma that prevents people from accessing medical marijuana,” she said. “When there’s a medical law, you must seek a recommendation from a healthcare professional and that creates a barrier. When you have a recreational law, that barrier isn’t there. I don’t have to tell a doctor that I’m anxious, have a sleep disorder, or have PTSD. All I have to do is go to the dispensary and purchase it, and show that I’m 21.”

Maclean said the evidence does not support the notion that Cannabis causes more workplace accidents. “We saw that non-fatal workplace injuries actually declined following recreational marijuana adoption. So that suggests that people are not getting into problems at work because they’re high.”