Harvard: Legal Cannabis and Gay Marriage Spark Innovation

By David Jenison on May 9, 2018

A study published last March in the Strategic Management Journal argued that legalizing cannabis and gay marriage was good for American innovation. The authors, who summarized their arguments in layperson terms for the Harvard Business Review, argued that economic incentives are traditionally seen as the most effective tool for sparking innovation, but data suggests that "social policies matter just as much—if not more." 

According to the London- and Atlanta-based researchers, innovation might be an economic activity, but it is also a social process in which individuals combine and sharpen their ideas. This is why some tech companies install ping-pong tables, communal workspaces and host happy hours in their offices. So if "social interactions often provide the best breeding ground for innovation," what impact do government social policies have on innovation? The researchers attempted to answer this question by looking at the impact of easing restrictions on gay marriage/civil unions and medical cannabis and increasing them on abortion rights. The study then looked at state-by-state policies between 1990 and 2007, and compared them by the number of patents granted in each state. 

What did they find? 

"We found that states that implemented the social liberalization policies [i.e., legalizing weed and civil unions] subsequently experienced a significant increase of 5% to 6% in their innovation output," the liberal-elite heathens wrote in the Harvard Business Review. "In contrast, the passage of an additional abortion restriction in a state was followed by an average 1% decline in its innovation output."

Worth noting, the data came from individual states reflecting policies enacted in different years. The variance in time and location would lessen the impact that federal legislation and national trends might have on the data. 

According to the study, legalizing cannabis and civil unions often prompted more diverse social interactions and influenced "attitudes towards openness and diversity, inspiring higher levels of social diversity, increasing general trust, and promoting interactions between individuals with more diverse views, life styles, and racial-ethnic backgrounds." 

Interestingly, the data showed that inventor collaborations increased by 17 percent following cannabis legalization, and by 22 percent after same-sex unions. 

Per the researchers, "More diverse interactions, in turn, lead to more and higher quality ideas… For ideas to flow and collide, the people who hold those ideas need to meet, mingle, talk, and share. Individuals with more diverse social interactions are exposed to a more diverse set of ideas, and thus have more opportunities to produce innovations from combining previously unconnected ideas."

In 2017, the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN)—which supports prohibitions on cannabis, gay marriage and abortion—published the headline, "New Trump Plan: Time for Some Good Old-Fashioned American Innovation." The Strategic Management Journal findings would actually argue for something quite different. What the country really needs is some good new-fashioned American innovation, and it can start by ending the federal prohibition on cannabis. 

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