Distinct but not Apart? Stigma Reduction and Cross-Industry Evaluative Spillovers: The Case of Medical Marijuana Legalization

    Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2018.1460

    Previous research on stigma reduction has been primarily confined to single industries. However, industry boundaries are porous in the eyes of audience members and hardly can act as artificial confines to moral re-evaluations. We contend that evaluative spillovers induced by stigma reduction in a focal industry diffuse to other industries that share the same vilifying label when (a) they possess the morally approved attribute that underlies the reduction of stigma, and (b) the morally approved attribute is embedded in formal rules and procedures that ensure the desired purposes. Empirically, we focus our tests on the legalization of marijuana as a medicine in several U.S. states during the period 2000–2015, which has reduced the “vice” stigma around marijuana by highlighting the “health safety” attribute of marijuana, namely its safe consumption and potential health benefits. We show that legalization generated evaluative spillovers to other “vice” industries sharing the same health safety attribute as marijuana (i.e., alcohol), but not to those that did not share it (i.e., tobacco). Those spillovers were primarily observed when the law was accompanied by a patient registration system that highlighted the health safety attribute of marijuana, by limiting its use to medical purposes.