Jeff Sessions Makes False Link Between Marijuana and the Opioid Crisis

Some argue that marijuana may be a key part of the fight against opioid abuse.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates marijuana—that much is clear. He once said at a Senate hearing that the drug is a "very real danger" and that "good people don't smoke marijuana."

This week, Sessions doubled down on his dislike of marijuana with comments that not only contradict the available evidence but may undermine potentially life-saving public health efforts.

"We think a lot of this [opioid abuse] is starting with marijuana and other drugs, too," Sessions said at a Heritage Foundation event this week. He also seemed to downplay the DEA's estimation that about 80 percent of heroin abusers start with prescription drugs.

Sessions' belief that marijuana is feeding the opioid crisis flies in the face of evidence. 

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found that the 10 states that legalized medical marijuana between 1999 and 2010 saw significantly fewer opioid deaths compared to states that completely outlaw pot. And in a report published just this week by the Rand Corporation, the 2014 findings were confirmed, though the new study found that the reduction in opioid deaths was the strongest in states that permitted medical marijuana dispensaries to open up.

Far from indicating that pot use may pave the way for opioid abuse and overdoses, these studies and others suggest the opposite—that marijuana may help people avoid the trap of opioid addiction.

Some even argue that marijuana could be a key part of the fight against opioid abuse. There are skeptics of this approach, and it's important to recognize we're unlikely to find a single panacea to wipe out the problem. But a knee-jerk response to marijuana is not helpful.

Sessions is peddling the tired canard that medical marijuana is a "gateway drug." He even recently endorsed Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" approach to drug addiction. But the gateway-drug concept has long been highly dubious

As of now, reliable studies suggest marijuana isn't making the opioid crisis worse and that it may even help to fight it.

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Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.