Stop Blaming Cannabis for Opioid Use

Cannabis has entered the limelight as a scapegoat once again, ever since President Donald Trump declared opioids a public emergency last year. Meanwhile, Attorney General and Certified Dingus Jeff Sessions has made dire attempts at endangering the cannabis industry in spite of its sweeping momentum in popularity.

By now your apathy for this current presidency has probably turned into a casual insouciant roll over. We don’t blame you. But blaming America’s opioid crisis on cannabis is like blaming firefighters for 9/11. No statistical correlation exists between cannabis legalization and the increase of opioid use. Not. Even. Once. 

In fact, the exact opposite has been observed in states where recreational sales are allowed.

An article published in the American Journal of Public Health sampled a pool of opioid associated deaths from 2000 to 2015 in Colorado. Only a year after Colorado legalized recreational sales in 2014, researchers discovered a sharp 6.5 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths.

Even federal institutions agree. National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins alluded to “a statistical relationship between the states that have legalized marijuana and reduced incidence of opioid overdoses and deaths.”

Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo back in January, effectively ridding the cannabis industry’s Magna Carta between Federal and State governments following a load of bogus claims that cannabis is directly responsible for opioid use. In reality, this is far from the truth.

Eighty-six percent of heroin users between 2008 and 2009 reported they had abused prescription opioids before turning to the black market. Experts believe this is the result of bad optics from pharmaceutical companies like Purdue, the sole distributor of OxyContin.

Cities and other municipal districts, including Portland, have engaged companies like Purdue in legal battles, claiming opiates have “created a public nuisance” within their communities. The inherent lacking of treatment and support has been unprecedented. Nowhere else is this more true than in our prisons.

Fifty-eight percent of people entering the prison system have drug dependencies or exhibit misuse, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report published in 2017. Treatment is inconsistent for these populations, especially during the transition back into society. Opiate substitutes such as buprenorphine and methadone are supplementally administered during incarceration, which ceases immediately upon being released, further increasing the chance for death caused by overdose. Washington State alone saw 2,589 deaths two weeks after release between 1999 and 2003.

To add to this dumpster fire, an individual who pleads guilty to minor drug offences gets retroactively demoted as a citizen. Their right to vote, access to federally-funded welfare, and ability to work anywhere, get taken away. This combination of ambivalence and disproportionate  punishment creates a hostile environment that automatically sets these people up for failure.

Research on cannabidiol or CBD has shown promising signs at blocking opioid rewards.  Although it’s still too soon to tell if the reduction of opioid abuse correlates with more accessible cannabis, you can definitely bet it’s far from being a contributor. Cannabis has been a scapegoat in the U.S. for everything from immigration to mass incarceration. At this point, it’s become pretty redundant to blame a plant for systemic woes. Perhaps instead we should be blaming other carbon-based lifeforms.


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