This is Your Economy on Drugs

By Richard Florida

Yesterday, I looked at the relationship between drug use and politics. We saw that states that voted for Obama had higher levels of marijuana and cocaine use than those that voted for McCain. But perhaps economic factors lie behind those political trends. We know that Obama drew from less affluent minority voters and also from more well-educated, creative class voters. Perhaps the associations between drug use and voting patterns reflect deeper economic patterns.

The conventional wisdom is that economic hardship is a key factor in drug use. Anyone who watches crime shows like The Wire gets this picture really fast.

To get a first approximation of this, we examined the relationship between drug use and unemployment. Not surprisingly, the use of illegal drugs is correlated with state unemployment (.31). And the correlations are even a bit higher when we look at marijuana (.36) and cocaine use (.36).

Correlation coefficient: 0.31*

But things get more interesting when we look at the relationship between drug use and economic development. While there is no relationship between economic output and illegal drug use overall, there is a significant relationship between state economic output and marijuana, and an even stronger correlation between economic output and cocaine use, as the charts below show.

Correlation coefficient: 0.31*

Correlation coefficient:  0.61**

But there's more to the story. Tomorrow, I will turn to the relationship between drug use and the class structure of state economies.

Note: * indicates statistical significance at the .05 level; ** indicates significance at the .01 level.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/08/this-is-your-economy-on-drugs/23026/