In the midst of a serious drug epidemic, the Trump administration announced its intentions to crack down on a substance that many turn to for healing and relief. As we watch so many of our loved ones struggle with addiction to opioids and other deadly drugs, why is the Department of Justice waging war on marijuana?
The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug (comparable to cocaine and heroin). This classification seems inaccurate. Schedule 1 drugs have no medicinal value, according to the government. Yet, there is scientific research demonstrating that medical cannabis can be used to treat a wide assortment of conditions, including PTSD, glaucoma, epileptic seizures and certain cancers. Marijuana is also less addictive and dangerous than cocaine or heroine (or even legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol).
Today, eight states have fully legalized marijuana while 28 others, including Pennsylvania, allow its use for medical treatments.
Federal regulations hinder states’ ability to legalize medical or recreational marijuana. The Obama administration attempted to alleviate this tension by directing federal law enforcement agencies not to interfere with state laws.
Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, now threatens to make state law his business and, in doing so, could cause serious unintended consequences. For example, federal law prohibits anyone using illegal substances, including marijuana, from owning a firearm. Recently, the Pennsylvania State Police informed anyone legally obtaining a medical marijuana card that they would have to turn in their firearms. Should responsible gun owners be forced to give up their guns to seek legal medical treatment?
Perhaps the better question is: Why is the attorney general focusing on marijuana when, in the United States, 175 people die everyday from overdose of dangerous drugs? Overdose deaths have increased so dramatically that the U.S. life expectancy, which was trending upward, has decreased in the past two consecutive years, according to the CDC.
The opioid epidemic has impacted urban and rural areas alike, including here in the Susquehanna Valley. Pennsylvania lawmakers have even passed legislation allowing first responders to carry and administer naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses an overdose.
Do you know how many cases of death by marijuana overdose have been recorded across the United States? Zero.
States that have legalized marijuana are seeing a decrease in overdose deaths. In Colorado, opioid-related deaths were increasing steadily since 2000. In 2014, after legalized recreational marijuana became available, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that the state’s overdose death rate began to decrease.
More research is needed to understand how marijuana might help those who are prone to drug addiction. However, the addictive characteristics of narcotics and opioids and their direct link with overdose deaths is clear.
We have witnessed in our community how easily these deadly drugs are dispensed. A local doctor who allegedly prescribed nearly 3 million doses of opioids in just 19 months was charged recently with the death of five patients.
This doctor, and others, may have had help. Congressman Marino pushed a bill written by the pharmaceutical industry through Congress in 2016 making it easier for drugs to be pushed out into a community in large volumes without oversight by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). According to many DEA officials, the pharmaceutical industry profited from this law, while putting communities, especially young people, at risk.
While the drug companies rack up huge profits, Trump’s economic advisers estimate that the opioid epidemic cost the nation more than $500 billion in 2015. Trump declared the crisis a public health emergency but has authorized no additional funding.
The federal government’s inability to act has led Gov. Wolf to take the extraordinary measure of declaring the opioid crisis a disaster emergency here in Pennsylvania. This temporary declaration waives 13 protocols and regulations and establishes the Opioid Operational Command Center. It is a start, but more must be done.
Marijuana is not the problem. For many, it is a legitimate medical treatment. We must put our resources into addressing the deadly opioid and narcotic crisis that is killing a record number of Americans. We must not deny patients access to a drug like cannabis that can help manage chronic illnesses without high risk of addiction.
There is only one solution. Congress must legalize marijuana. Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-VA) introduced H.R. 1227 to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug and eliminate criminal penalties while allowing states to regulate marijuana as they see fit. Do your part to end federal prohibition. Tell your U.S. representative to sponsor and support H.R.1227.