This Is Your Deaprtment of Justice On Drugs

June 14, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions showed us yesterday in his Senate testimony, he is a master of misdirection. Session the indignantly defended his honor, vigorously denying things that nobody had accused him of. As for specifics, he mostly refused to answer.

Sessions is using a similar strategy in his letter to Congress  (written on May 1 but made public two days ago) urging Congress to let him punish states that allow medical marijuana.

I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.

A third grader could see the flaw in this argument.
  • We’re in the midst of a drug epidemic.
  • Marijuana is a drug
  • Therefore marijuana is part of the epidemic.
Can a politician still get away with tossing anything he doesn’t like into the catch-all bin labeled “drugs”? As most people who are not the Attorney General know, the epidemic consists mostly of opiods, not weed. If there is any connection between medical marijuana and opioid death and addiction, that connection is negative. States that allow medical marijuana have lower rates of opioid problems.

Medical marijuana legalization was associated with 23% (p = 0.008) and 13% (p = 0.025) reductions in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse and OPR overdose, respectively. [From the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependency, April 1, 2017 (behind a paywall here)]

Earlier articles from JAMA and NBER reached similar conclusions.  (See this WaPo article for summaries and links.).   

Research on individuals reaches the same conclusion as state-level data.

    •  Cannabis use was associated with 64% lower opioid use in patients with chronic pain.
    •  Cannabis use was associated with better quality of life in patients with chronic pain.
    •  Cannabis use was associated with fewer medication side effects and medications used. [From an article in the Journal of Pain, 2016 (here).]

None of these findings should be surprising. We have long known that marijuana is effective for people who are in pain, and it is far safer than opioids. If people can treat their pain with weed rather than heroin, fentanyl, etc., they’ll be less likely to wind up addicted or dead. If the government makes it harder to get medical marijuana, opioid problems will likely increase.

Scientific American (here) today presents similar evidence today, as did the journal Science (here)  year ago). Of course, scientific Americans and science have little influence in the Trump administration. To head the White House commission on drug addiction Trump appointed Chris Christie, a man whose views of marijuana are similarly without basis in fact. (See this earlier post.)

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