Essays on Drug and Alcohol Policies in the United States



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This dissertation consists of two essays that explore the unintended consequences of drug and alcohol control policies in the United States. They both examine policy changes at the state level using a difference-in-differences approach. These two studies shed light on outcomes that were not likely to be considered when policy decisions were made and may have important implications for future policies.

In the first essay, I analyze the effect of minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws on non-cognitive skills. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) is used to investigate the effect of changes in MLDA on the onset of regular drinking, self-esteem and self-control. Surprisingly, I find that a legal drinking environment is associated with an increase in self-esteem for females in the short-run and long-run. Then, I test several possible channels through which self-esteem may be indirectly affected by the MLDA. These channels include alcohol and drug use, marriage, sex and childbirth. Although the MLDA has a significant effect on some of these channels for females, using the channels as controls in the self-esteem analysis does not affect the magnitude or significance of the effect of the MLDA on female self-esteem.

In the second essay, I examine the effect of marijuana decriminalization in Massachusetts on the black-white gap in arrest rates for several different criminal offenses using Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program data. I use a difference-in-difference model that allows for a heterogeneous treatment effect by race to estimate this effect for marijuana possession and sales, non-marijuana possession and sales, violent and theft-related offenses separately for adults and juveniles. Results indicate that marijuana decriminalization leads to a decrease in the black-white gap in adult and juvenile arrest rates for marijuana possession and sales, non-marijuana sales and adult arrest rates for theft-related offenses. These findings are consistent with decriminalization leading to a shift in police resources away from areas where blacks are more likely to be arrested.



Economics, Microeconomics