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 "good people don't smoke marijuana."
This week, he stepped up his irrational distaste toward the drug with comments that not only contradict the available evidence but may undermine potentially life-saving public health efforts.
"We think a lot of this 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 by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found that the ten 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 may pave the way for more opioid abuse and overdoses, these studies and others suggest the opposite. Marijuana may help people avoid the trap of opioid addiction.
Some 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 a highly dubious one — we're better off following what the best available evidence says.
As of now, reliable studies suggest that marijuana isn't making the opioid crisis worse; it may even help to fight it.