The Trump administration’s revival of the failed war on drugs did not spring from a place of reason. But increasingly, it looks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ veiled threats toward states with legal marijuana laws might actually hinder America’s ability to solve the nation’s real drug problem: the opioid crisis.
Two new studies suggest that when medical marijuana is legally and easily available, patients may be more likely to turn to pot instead of highly addictive opioids to treat their pain. One study found that in states with medical cannabis dispensaries, there was a 14 percent reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions among Medicare patients, who are typically 65 or older. The other study examined Medicaid data and found similar results, suggesting that loosening marijuana laws may lower the use of prescription opioids among this primarily low-income population. The researchers found that states that legalized medical pot had roughly a 6 percent lower rate of prescribing opioids compared with states that outlawed marijuana.
Legalizing cannabis is not enough to solve our nation’s opioid epidemic on its own, as the authors of these studies made clear. Yet their research provides further evidence that the federal government’s reversion to a no-tolerance approach when it comes to policing marijuana is misguided and may even be pushing patients toward more addictive and deadly painkillers.
The more discovered about marijuana and its benefits, the more backward the current administration’s policies seem. At the same time, the holes in the existing body of research into marijuana and its applications show why the federal government needs to relax its strict rules on medical studies involving the drug.
At a minimum, Sessions and the Department of Justice should reinstate the hands-off enforcement policy adopted under President Barack Obama, allowing states to run well-regulated systems of legalized marijuana without interference from the federal government. Even better, the federal government should finally legalize the drug nationwide, ending its classification as a Schedule I drug that is on the same level as heroin,given the drug’s lower risk of causing addiction and its lack of connection to deadly overdoses.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE SEATTLE TIMES