The Effect of Marijuana Laws on College Students Mental Health

Tuesday, June 25, 2019: 9:00 AM
Tyler - Mezzanine Level (Marriott Wardman Park Hotel)

Presenter: Gregory Leung

Discussant: Amanda C. Cook

State-level medical and recreational marijuana legalization has become a trend in the past 5 years in the United States. As of March 2019, 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws (MMLs) while 10 states and D.C. have passed recreational marijuana laws (RMLs). In economics literature, some examine the taxation aspect of the laws while others explore public health concerns and the spillover effect of crimes on neighboring states.

In regards to the relationship between RMLs and college students, a study using data from the Netherlands showed that students who lost legal access to marijuana improved academic performance. In medical and psychology journals, the effect of marijuana usage on mental health is ambiguous. Some argue that cannabis triggers the onset or relapse of schizophrenia in predisposed individuals as well as exacerbates the symptoms while some found that marijuana did not increase adults’ risk for depression. As more states provide residents legal access to marijuana, the cost for college students to obtain and consume it has drastically decreased compared to the pre-legalization period.

To the author’s knowledge, there are no studies of the impact of marijuana laws on college students’ mental health. In this paper, I use restricted data from the Healthy Mind Study Questionnaires (HMS) from 2007 to 2018 and a difference-in-differences identification strategy to exploit the variation in marijuana laws to estimate the effect of marijuana legalization on students’ psychological well-being. This data set contains demographic information on students, their academic performances, self-reported mental health conditions as well as their lifestyles and risky behaviors, which allow the assessment of whether changes in mental health are due to the legal passage of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

While some states recognize the effectiveness of marijuana for medicinal purposes and the potential tax revenue gained from recreational marijuana sales, it is equally important to study the unintended consequences on public health. The preliminary results in this paper show how increased legal access to marijuana affects lifestyles and risky behaviors such as drug use among college students and sheds light on the relationship between cannabis and mental stability within the young adult population at a college environment.