Socially liberal policies like legalizing medical marijuana and same-sex marriage are good for innovation, while socially conservative policies like abortion restrictions are bad for innovation, according to research recently published in Strategic Management Journal. This finding may come as no surprise to those of us in the marijuana industry. But now there’s research we can use to continue to make a case for supporting liberal policies to drive innovative—and ultimately, successful—outcomes.
With that said, policymakers and executives who want to stimulate innovation in their own regions and businesses should sit up and take notice. Currently, the most common way governments and businesses encourage innovation is by creating economic incentives, like tax credits, bonuses and public grants. But the findings from this study argue that creating a socially liberal environment—one that fosters collaboration among diverse groups of people—is also key.
What do gay marriage, medical marijuana and abortion restrictions have in common? These policies are all hotly debated topics in the context of their social, economic and political impacts. But thus far, there’s been little discussion on the impact these policies have on innovation.
Furthermore, they’re all policies that were enacted in different states at different times. This variation in timing let the researchers examine policies across states to see their effect on innovation as each policy was implemented.
The researchers looked at these three policies enacted across states from 1994 to 2006 and compared them against the number of patents granted to individuals during those years, a common way of measuring innovation.
They found that socially liberal polices had a significant impact on innovation:
This 1% decrease led to 21 fewer patents per year at the state level. The authors noted that all percentages were significant and economically meaningful.
But what if states who have a higher level of patenting are just simply more likely to pass socially liberal policies? To compensate for this, the authors looked at the social environment right up to before these polices were enacted in each state and found no trends that would suggest this was the cause for their findings.
How do socially liberal policies encourage innovation? The study delves into how these liberal policies can influence interactions among people, and it examined the quality of collaborations those interactions foster.
The authors found that the enactment of socially liberal policies legitimizes certain issues, diminishing pervasive, longstanding stigmas. In this case, the policies enacted increased acceptance towards gay marriage and the use of marijuana as medicine. The breaking of these types of barriers allows for greater collaboration among individuals who wouldn’t necessarily work together under different, more conservative social conditions.
In addition, the authors found that the types of patents granted were on average of higher quality—they were more novel and more impactful. They also speculate that socially liberal policies widen access to resources, in turn making it easier for people to start their own businesses and pursue various ideas. Essentially, social liberal policies can make it easier for people to become entrepreneurs.
While the study looked at medical marijuana and the effect that its implementation had on state-wide patent levels, the findings of this study can have direct applications to the burgeoning marijuana industry in the United States.
If diversity increases collaboration between individuals, leading to more innovation and more novel ideas, it would be in the best interest of those in the cannabis industry to support socially liberal policies that promote diversity.
Some cities already seem to be one step ahead: Lawmakers in Oakland and Sacramento have prioritized distributing marijuana business licenses to people of color. And while these policies were initially created as a form of reparation for the failed War on Drugs, they could also have an unforeseen positive impact on innovation in a region’s marijuana industry.
Photo credit: Mervyn Chan