I recently attended the funeral for my sister’s brother-in-law, a 35-year-old who tragically became another victim of this country’s opioid crisis. He was such a sweet guy-a father to two children, a brother, a friend-but heroin took hold of and ended his life far too soon. When I returned home from the funeral, I realized that not only was I angry that opioids continue to destroy precious lives, but I was also extremely frustrated that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, right alongside heroin.
More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016—including illicit and regulated drugs, such as heroin and prescription opioids—according to the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (For the record, marijuana, while an illicit drug, has not caused a single overdose—ever.) This almost inconceivable number of annual overdoses has nearly doubled in the past decade.
Meanwhile, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8-percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate, compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” Even just among people over the age of 65 (based on research that used data from Medicare), there has been a 14-percent reduction in opioid prescriptions, according to NPR’s report on research conducted by The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. What’s more, the researchers estimate that medical marijuana dispensary programs reduced the number of opioid prescriptions by 3.7 million daily doses.
If so many politicians are making combating the nation’s “opioid crisis” one of their primary objectives, why are more of them not coming out in support of rescheduling cannabis or supporting the state-legal cannabis industry?
Thankfully, some prominent politicians have begun throwing their weight behind cannabis reform. Most recently (mid-April), as reported on CannabisBusinessTimes.com, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) signed on as a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act (S. 1689), creating a burst of wind beneath the legislation’s wings. The act, originally introduced in August 2017 by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and now sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as well as Sanders, “would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and incentivize states to end the racially disparate criminalization of marijuana consumers,” CBT reported.
In the House, the Marijuana Justice Act of 2018, or H.R. 4815 (with similar objectives), was introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) in January and had 27 co-sponsors at press time.
It’s imperative that all of us do what we can to advance legislation that would end prohibition, enable greater medical marijuana access to help decrease opioid fatalities nationwide, and support and protect the thriving state-legal cannabis industry. Contact your senators and representatives today and encourage them to support currently introduced legislation. Donate to campaigns and policy groups like Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and NORML. Volunteer for a local political campaign. Educate your regional and/or state legislators on medical benefits and other reasons for ending prohibition. If we all do our part, we can continue to build momentum and ensure marijuana’s place in the national economy, as well as open the doors to further advancements and access to medical and adult-use marijuana.