Massachusetts Invests in an Evidence-Based Approach to Marijuana Policy

Feb 13, 2018

Map of Massachusetts


In November 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a proposal to expand the legal use of marijuana. Since October 2014, the drug’s use in Massachusetts had been limited to treating particular ailments. Eight states and the District of Columbia have eased restrictions on retail (that is, nonmedical) marijuana use, but assessing the potential impacts of these policy changes requires more rigorous research. Cities and towns within Massachusetts are particularly interested in such research before deciding whether to impose bans on retail use in their communities.

To address this pressing need for more information, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a one-year Marijuana Baseline Health Study. Researchers expect to complete the study before retail marijuana stores can open in July 2018. The study has three aims, to better understand:

  1. The patterns, methods, and perceptions of marijuana use
  2. The frequency of marijuana-induced hospitalizations and impaired driving
  3. The economic and fiscal impacts of legalization on state and local government budgets

Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to improving public health and well-being, is working with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to address aim 3. Mathematica’s research, led by Associate Director David Jones and Senior Statistician Aparna Keshaviah, will examine how legalized marijuana will affect state and local government budgets through tax and licensing revenue, regulatory needs, criminal justice activity, and health care spending.

“Although policy changes related to the use of marijuana have gained momentum in recent years, the research required to understand the impacts of these changes hasn’t kept pace,” said Jones. “This study is an important part of an evidence-based approach to understanding the complex public health, public safety, and economic effects of legalizing marijuana,” he continued.

Mathematica’s economic analysis will expand on the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s analysis released earlier this year. In addition to estimating the primary impacts of legalization on tax revenue, licensing fees, and regulatory costs, Mathematica’s analysis will factor in impacts related to changes in law enforcement activity and in the occurrence and treatment of health conditions. According to Keshaviah: “To generate the most informed estimates possible, we plan to synthesize data from a robust body of literature with the experiences from other states that have seen on-the-ground impacts of legalized use."

Mathematica’s analysis for the Marijuana Baseline Health Study will complement research by the University of Massachusetts’s Donahue Institute and John Snow, Inc. to address aims 1 and 2 of the study. Findings from the study are expected to be made public in fall 2018.