The White House has been vocal regarding cannabis in the last couple of weeks. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently tied the use of recreational marijuana with opioid addiction in a completely false and unfounded statement. Spicer accompanied this statement with a call for the greater enforcement of federal marijuana laws, especially in relation to states that have legalized recreational cannabis.
Spicer is right, opioid addiction is currently one of the largest problems in the United States. In 2015, nearly 33,000 people died from opioid related overdoses, be that prescription opioids or heroine-like opioid substances. However, Spicer’s connection between recreational cannabis legalization and opioid addiction is unfounded and careless. It also obfuscates takes the real problem at hand. The reality is that increased opioid consumption and overdoses are due to improper prescription writing and shady pharmacies that dole out extremely high numbers of opioid pain killers. Spicer’s misinformation could lead to more widespread misunderstandings about opioid addiction as well as cannabis consumption, which make the opioid epidemic even harder to combat.
There is no research that ties marijuana use to the opioid addiction.
Spicer believes that not “enforcing” marijuana laws is encouraging people to use illicit drugs, which is far from the truth. His outlandish statements connecting cannabis and opioids appear to be linked to the widely disproved gateway theory that many anti-marijuana advocates, including current attorney general Jeff Sessions, use to support their crusades. Marijuana, however, is far different than opioids, it has been disproven to be a gateway drug and there is no scientific backing for the connection that Sean Spicer has implied.
Luckily, many other law markers have spoken out against the words of Spicer. Washington’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, wrote a letter to the Department of Justice stating that the opioid crisis, “will not be helped by a renewed law enforcement focus on marijuana.” Ferguson also mentioned that he hopes the federal government will work more closely with states to help alleviate the opioid problem, rather than working independently or leaving it up to the states alone.
Ferguson isn't the only law maker that has spoken out against Spicer. California Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom, has said that Spicer is largely misinformed on cannabis as well as the opioid epidemic. Newsom stated that legal marijuana operations keep cannabis out of the hands of drug cartels and under the control of government supervision, which will reduce crime overall. He also mentioned that the new recreational market in California will include a plethora of protections, including lab testing and seed to sale tracking, in order to better protect people. He also stated that the federal government should not remove its support from laws that has been voted in by citizens of a state.
Despite Spicer’s misinformation, opioid use is actually going down in states with access to medical marijuana. HelloMD recently conducted a study with UC Berkeley on opioids, cannabis and pain and found that over 90% of people on pain medication decreased their consumption of opioids when cannabis was added into their treatment protocol (results to be published soon). Another study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that 18 states with medical marijuana laws saw a decreased involvement of opioids in fatal car crashes since legalization. Another study published in 2014, from the Journal of American Medical Association, found a 25% lower opioid overdose rate in states with medical cannabis laws. Some states, like Maine, are even working on laws specific for the use of medical marijuana rot help people come down from opioid addiction.
One notable spot in all of the misinformation by Spicer, however, was his clarification on President Donald Trump’s support for medical marijuana. Spicer made it clear that medical marijuana and recreational marijuana were two different subject matters and that these new enforcements would not relate to medical marijuana use, which we know is extremely important to bettering the lives of so many people. None the less, Spicer’s comments only serve to enforce the agenda of anti-marijuana advocates who advertise false information to support their cause.