Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday at an event commemorating President Ronald Reagan, and he devoted part of his address to the opioid epidemic. It was pretty standard Sessions stuff: hyping the danger of marijuana use (“We are not going to pretend that there is not a law against marijuana, or that it’s not bad for you.”), plus the totally unfounded claim that the problem with the drug war is it hasn’t been fought hard enough (condemnation of “lax enforcement” and “permissive rhetoric”).
In the Q&A portion following Sessions’ remarks, however, he got a bit more specific. “My goal for 2018 is to see a further decline [in opioid use],” he said. “We had a 7 percent decline last year in actual prescriptions of opioids. We think doctors are just prescribing too many. … These pills become so addictive, and the [Drug Enforcement Administration] DEA said a huge percentage of the heroin addiction starts with prescriptions.” So far, so good. There’s plenty of evidence indicating that over-prescription has fueled opioid abuse, so it’s good news that doctors are being more careful about when they prescribe these powerful drugs.
But Sessions wasn’t done. While the DEA said as much as 80 percent of opioid abuse began with over-prescription, Sessions said, he believes “a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs, too.”
This is exactly wrong, and it’s a lie Sessions has been spreading for a long time. The truth is that there is good evidence that legalizing marijuana makes opioid overdose deaths less common.
Michael Hall reported on this just last month at Rare while commenting on the opioid epidemic in his home state of Ohio:
After Colorado legalized marijuana, the state saw a decrease in opioid-related deaths. People would much rather have safe and legal access to medical or recreational marijuana than take side-effect ridden, life-threatening opioids. As the Attorney General should note, studies have shown that states with legal marijuana have a 25 percent reduction in opioid addiction. …
As the World Health Organization recently reported, there is no public health risk or abuse potential for cannabidiol. Known as CBD, cannabidiol is used to treat everything from epilepsy to cancer, psychosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and much more. At the end of the day, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and is an alternative to highly addictive opioid narcotics.
Over at Reason, C.J. Ciaramella lists no less than six studies which found that legal pot correlates with a significant improvement in the opioid situation.
As I’ve mentioned before in connection to Sessions, I generally seek to avoid attributing evil motives to public figures with whom I disagree. I try to always give people the benefit of the doubt, to assume in the absence of evidence to the contrary that even those with (in my opinion) terrible ideas are acting with good intentions.
So, on that note, maybe Sessions is sincerely seeking to help victims of the opioid epidemic. I hope that’s true. But if so, he is that much more obliged to honestly evaluate the evidence that the drug war simply is not working. He is that much more obliged to recognize it is leading to more suffering, more death and more violence, not less — and to act accordingly.