At a recent summit held to discuss the opioid epidemic currently ravaging the country, a Republican congressman suggested that the problem could be solved by cracking down on medical and recreational cannabis. Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Committee on Rules, asked the health professionals assembled at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region VI Opioid Summit at UT Southwestern to provide him with advice on ending the crisis. Sessions promised that he would bring any potential solutions before Congress and ensure that the necessary funding would be added to next month's budget bill.
During his speech, Rep. Sessions twice changed the topic of conversation to argue against the legalization of cannabis, even though none of the preceding speakers at the conference identified cannabis as a risk factor for opioid abuse. The Congressman falsely claimed that marijuana use leads individuals to opioid addiction, and that the medical community should take a stand against medical cannabis in order to stop the spread of opioid abuse.
"If addiction is the problem and we have marketers of addiction that include marijuana — because all you have to do is go to any of the stores in Colorado and they can give you high to low to medium to chocolate — we ought to call for it what it is," Sessions said at the conference, according to The Star-Telegram.
"If it were nicotine, it would have been outlawed," the Congressman added, then corrected himself after realizing that nicotine is in fact fully legal despite well-proven health risks: "Well, it would have been handled differently."
Sessions' comments echo Attorney General Jeff Sessions' constant tirade against cannabis legalization. As recently as last month, the Attorney General said that the opioid crisis "is starting with marijuana and other drugs." Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, now the head of Trump's White House commission on opioids, has consistently argued that legal weed is leading to increased opioid abuse. "Marijuana legalization will lead to more drug use, not less drug use, will lead to more death, not less death, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse has proven it," Christie said.
As usual, Christie was completely incorrect regarding this claim. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has actually written that "the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, 'harder' substances." Last May, NIDA also reported that they "found an association between medical marijuana legalization and a reduction in overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers, an effect that strengthened in each year following the implementation of legislation." Several new studies have also confirmed these findings, showing that a majority of patients using opioids for chronic pain were successfully able to reduce or cease their opioid use by taking non-addictive cannabis-based alternatives.
Fortunately, not everyone in Congress believes the gateway drug myth. Congressman Earl Blumenauer has been fighting the good fight for cannabis reform over the past several years, and has recently been using funds from the newly-created Cannabis Fund Super PAC to combat cannabis prohibitionists in Congress. Blumenauer will be using this fund to campaign against several anti-pot Congresspeople who are up for re-election this year, including Rep. Pete Sessions.