Advocates for legal marijuana have just received additional support that not only isn’t marijuana necessarily harmful to you, its legalization could save lives and help curtail the opioid epidemic.
Two reports in JAMA Internal Medicine — one by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the other by researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health Emory University — found that states that have medical marijuana dispensaries report “substantial reductions in opiate use”. Though the reports have their limitations — one was based on Medicare records, the other on Medicaid — it’s not the first time that the same correlation has been made.
A little more than a year ago, a similar finding appeared in the online journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. That study found that while hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers and marijuana increased 300 percent in all 50 states, in the 28 states where marijuana was then legalized, there were declines in hospitalizations related to opioid pain reliever dependence or abuse (23 percent) and overdoses (13 percent). There was no increase or decrease in marijuana related-hospitalizations.
That wasn’t even the first study to make that finding. There were four earlier ones. Correlation is not causation, but there’s enough evidence to suggest that further study is needed and that the federal government should get out of the way.
President Donald J. Trump has shown some ambivalence about the legalization of marijuana. On the one hand, during the presidential campaign, he said he was inclined to leave at least medical marijuana up to the states. On the other, he appointed anti-marijuana warrior Jeff Sessions as attorney general and hasn’t seemed to restrain him on any of his War on Drugs rhetoric or actions.
So far Sessions has mainly been handcuffed by members of Congress, 60 percent of whom represent states that have legalized medical marijuana, usually by popular referendum. Congress is already unpopular. Allowing the White House to enforce the federal ban would not be popular.
What allows the feds to get in the way is the Controlled Substances Act which places marijuana in Schedule 1, a category restricted to drugs that are unsafe for any use, under any conditions, and have no health benefits. That’s a blatantly false categorization. Re-categorizing marijuana might have policy and international treaty ramifications that would be difficult, but it needs to be done.
Already more than half of the US population lives in a state where medical marijuana is legal. Nine states have legalized recreational marijuana use, too. Continuation of this de facto federal prohibition on research (only federally grown marijuana can be used, and access and supply are extremely limited) will lead to full legalization without thorough and unbiased investigation of the real dangers and benefits of marijuana.
It also undermines our trust in the government and fosters contempt. During Prohibition, Americans became accustomed to breaking the law regularly to get a drink. Most did not become wife beaters or drunks. Likewise, generations of Americans now have personal experience that the worst horror stories of their elders on the topic are false.
Legality doesn’t mean something is safe. Opioid pain relievers are legal. Marijuana can be abused as well, but as W. David Bradford, a professor of public policy at the University of Georgia, pointed out, marijuana has a much smaller risk of dependency than opioids, and there is no risk of death from marijuana use or dependence.
If the use of any substance takes over your life, if all you want to to do is smoke weed, you may need marijuana addiction recovery. The same applies to drinking alcohol, taking prescription opioids, snorting cocaine, or sniffing computer keyboard cleaner. Substance abuse problems come in all forms. You may need help. It would be ironic if marijuana can help.