U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has plans to crackdown on America’s “historic drug epidemic.” While this sounds like a noble intention, considering 91 people in the United States die each day from drug overdoses, marijuana is being grouped together with opioid drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers. This plan blatantly overlooks the fact that overdose deaths have actually decreased in states where medical marijuana is legalized.
The protections that Sessions wants to put in place could severely curtail the progress that has been made in legalizing cannabis for medical use. According to Sessions, legal controls that have protected medical marijuana dispensaries from federal prosecutors since 2014 also jeopardize the DOJ’s ability to prosecute drug traffickers and prevent drug abuse.
This is a sticky situation, because obviously controlling the use of illegal drugs is a matter of utmost importance. The problem is that marijuana needs to be thought of as a separate entity from opioid drugs. While marijuana can be habit-forming, it is virtually impossible to overdose on. Medical marijuana is starting to become widely accepted as an alternative treatment option for a range of conditions; in fact, a 2016 survey found that many people prefer medical marijuana to prescription painkillers. In the states where medical marijuana is legal, the typical physician prescribes 1,825 fewer painkillers for Medicare patients per year because seniors prefer medical marijuana.
The case for medical marijuana is an incredibly complicated one because even though a majority of states have now legalized it, on a federal level, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug meaning it has no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse. Although the cannabis industry is thriving on a state level, this federal classification makes it difficult for researchers to obtain marijuana and study its benefits.
Now, Session’s Congressional letter dated May 1, makes it clear that he wants to cut spending on state medical marijuana programs when the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment in September. If Session’s appeal actually goes through, it could be a major setback for the medical marijuana industry, causing disruptions for patients who rely on cannabis’s therapeutic properties. On the other hand, Session’s letter means that medical marijuana will be thoroughly discussed in Congress, and the argument could go either way.