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Critics Blast White House For Tying Opioid Epidemic To Legal Weed

(Robert Donachie/TheDCNF)

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

Critics are ripping into the Trump administration after a spokesman signaled the president will crack down on state marijuana laws and claimed weed exacerbates the opioid epidemic.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer fielded questions on President Donald Trump’s stance on marijuana legalization during a press conference Thursday, saying the Department of Justice is likely going to increase enforcement efforts of federal law.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and is lumped into the same designation category as heroin. This is sparking fears among officials in states with legal weed that the Justice Department could upend their local laws. Spicer differentiated between medical and recreational marijuana, signaling the focus will be on the latter, reports The Washington Post.

Spicer provoked more criticism after tying the national opioid epidemic in with recreational marijuana legalization. He claimed “encouraging people” to use marijuana would be irresponsible in light of the high rates of heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.

“Contrary to the ‘alternative facts’ deployed from the podium in the White House press briefing room, several studies clearly show that states that allow people to legally access marijuana are seeing reduced opioid problems,” Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Far from being a ‘gateway drug,’ marijuana is actually a relatively safe alternative to dangerous prescription painkillers.”

States throughout the country are currently pushing to expand medical marijuana programs to include opioid addiction as a qualifying condition. Many are also advocating offering medical marijuana as an alternative painkiller for treatment of a variety of conditions. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.

Connecticut is currently conducting two studies, one with federal funds and another at the state level, investigating marijuana’s potential benefit as an alternative painkiller in light of the opioid epidemic.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia studied the relationship between marijuana-use and mental health and tested its interaction with different illnesses. The findings, published in Clinical Psychology Review in November, suggest marijuana is a helpful tool for those suffering addictions to more harmful substances, like prescription painkillers.

A separate study conducted by Dr. Daniel Clauw, a professor at the University of Michigan, found patients who were treated for chronic pain with both opioids and marijuana eventually pivot towards higher levels of weed consumption.

“They noted on average a two-thirds decrease in their opioid dose,” Clauw told NPR. “They also noted that they just felt a lot better overall with respect to side-effect profile when their pain was being controlled largely with cannabinoids.”

The statements from Spicer are adding to anxiety within the industry over the future of legal weed across the country, specifically now that Jeff Sessions is attorney general. Sessions is a staunched opponent of marijuana legalization but has been very vague on the subject since his confirmation.

If the administration follows through with enforcement of federal marijuana laws they will be battling against public opinion. The latest polling from Quinnipiac shows 59 percent of voters support federal marijuana legalization.

“If the administration is looking for ways to become less popular, cracking down on voter-approved marijuana laws would be a great way to do it,” Angell told TheDCNF. “On the campaign trail, President Trump clearly and repeatedly pledged that he would leave decisions on cannabis policy to the states. With a clear and growing majority of the country now supporting legalization, reneging on his promises would be a political disaster and huge distraction from the rest of the president’s agenda.”

Sessions fielded several questions on federal marijuana policy during his hearing in January, however, his answers did not go far in clarifying whether he will be adversarial to state laws on pot.

Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and Washington, D.C., where it is also legal for recreational use. Voters in Maine, Nevada, California and Massachusetts all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Election Day. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now have access to legal pot.

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