In the United States, 100 million people suffer from chronic pain, and every day, 90 people die from opioid-related overdoses. In 2016 alone, 59,000 people died from opioid overdoses — more than four times the number of people killed by firearms — yet drugs like oxycodone and morphine are more prevalent than ever. In fact, the number of opiate prescriptions has nearly doubled in the last decade.
But while things might look bleak, there is hope in the form of another drug: marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, and as a natural and far less addictive alternative to opioids, cannabis has shown potential in helping to combat this public health crisis. Medical marijuana appears to significantly curtail opioid overdoses, to the tune of a 25 percent decrease in states where medical marijuana is legal. And now that recreational pot is legal in several states as well, there are even more opportunities to gather data (and more aspiring scientists volunteering to gather it!). In Colorado, after recreational marijuana was legalized in the state in 2014, researchers found a 6.5 percent reduction statewide in opioid deaths. Good news, right? Exciting, right? Seems like the kind of thing we should study further, right?
Because even as facts and statistics highlight the dangers of opioids and the possibilities of marijuana, many government officials remain hell-bent on keeping pot illegal. At the forefront of the anti-marijuana crusade is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The White Knight. The Elf on the Shelf. He’s coming for your pot, hippies, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But why is he so preoccupied with shutting down weed? It may have something to do with money. A rise in marijuana sales would chip into tobacco’s bottom line, and the Tobacco Lobby is one of Sessions’ most ardent corporate supporters. In 1997, after Sessions won election to the Senate, his campaign was forced to return some Big Tobacco donations, because R.J. Reynolds, the cigarette giant, had contributed too much money. That’s right, Sessions had more tobacco money than he knew what to do with. Seems like the kind of guy who would make a fair and balanced decision, right? Well, hold onto your hats.
Now, he is threatening to reverse the Obama administration’s more laissez-faire stance on prosecuting marijuana retailers and growers in states where the drug is legal. He has spoken about increasing asset forfeiture — a tactic usually reserved for going after cartels — and applying it to mom and pop marijuana operations. And he has rolled back sentencing directives that sought to restore fairness to non-violent drug offenders — which won’t do much for our criminal justice system, but will finally get all those violent and dangerous Dave Matthews fans off the streets.
Mr. Sessions was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t strike me that the country would be better if [marijuana] is being sold on every street corner.” Cigarettes? Absolutely! Liquor? Have at it!, Guns? No problem! But marijuana? Absolutely not — that’s a schedule 1 drug, on par with heroin. Sure, heroin is responsible for thousands of fatal overdoses every year; but marijuana will make you hungry, giggly, and relaxed.
And no one gets to relax. Not in Jeff Sessions’ America.