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Medical marijuana blunts tax bill, say UGA researchers

Georgia may never "free the weed" but legalized medical marijuana could save taxpayers millions, say University of Georgia researchers.

UGA's Ashley and W. David Bradford.

In a recent study, the father-daughter team of David and Ashley Bradford say in the 17 states with a medical marijuana law in place by 2013, Medicare saved approximately $165.2 million because of lower prescription drug use.

If medical marijuana was approved in every state, the overall savings to Medicare would have been around $468 million.

That's a lot of green.

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David Bradford said he knows medical marijuana is a controversial topic, and some view it as a backdoor way of legalizing recreational marijuana, but research indicates "there's a significant amount of clinical use at work here."

Medical marijuana was approved by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year, but there's a major loophole.

Georgians who suffer from cancer, sickle cell and other illnesses can legally possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil, if a physician approves, but it's illegal to buy the stuff locally.

Aside from saving money, medical marijuana may also save lives. The UGA study found doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal write fewer prescriptions.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury death for Americans, killing more people than guns or car crashes, according to the DEA .

Americans, like Russian Olympians, support their pharmacists.

In 2014, U.S. consumers spent $374 billion on legal prescription medicine (and more than $100 billion on illegal drugs).

The U.S. pays more for medicine because we get charged more.

Most countries have a single large purchaser of prescription medicine -- the government -- and they wield substantial bargaining power. But federal law prohibits Medicare, the largest single U.S. payer for prescription drugs, from negotiating prices.

And Medicare, unlike Nancy Reagan, can't "just say no." By law, Medicare has to purchase drugs the FDA approves in six categories including "antidepressants" and "antipsychotics."

The U.S. is about the only country that allows drug companies to advertise directly to patients, which explains why I may name my children Latuda, Lunesta and Celebrex.

In 2014, drug makers spent $4.5 billion in such advertising. Another $24 billion promoted pills directly to doctors.

With the pharmaceutical lobby outspending insurance companies by a wide margin, we won't see doctors handing out free medical marijuana samples anytime soon.

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