Just a few short years ago, marijuana was widely decried as the “gateway drug” that we all should “just say no” to. It was demonized as a sure path leading to addiction to harder drugs.
Now, we know that at least some of what we were told about the plant simply wasn’t true. We also know that legally prescribed substances have flooded our streets and led to much worse. The legal drug trade carries much more responsibility for the current opioid and heroin crisis than marijuana does.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. There is a direct correlation between this crisis and the fact that “the amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010,” according to the CDC’s website. “Yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported. Deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone – have more than quadrupled since 1999.”
As states have cracked down on opioid abuse, users increasingly have turned to heroin.
No one has ever died from using marijuana. And despite an abundance of rhetoric, there’s scant evidence that use of marijuana leads to heroin use. But there are a lot of resources aimed at stopping it in states where it is not legal.
There is, however, evidence that marijuana can help combat opioid addiction. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there was a 25 percent drop in opioid overdose deaths in states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.
But that isn’t reason to declare pot a panacea. After decades of misinformation about the evils of marijuana, things have swung the other way. Now, there is a ton of bad information about the plant being totally harmless, or a cure for any ailment ranging from cancer to addiction to shrinking tax coffers. Of course, like any other drug, marijuana is not totally harmless; on the other hand, it is a federal Schedule 1 drug, which stringently limits legal research on its potential medicinal effects.
So far, nine states, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, along with Washington D.C., have legalized recreational use of cannabis. Twenty-nine states, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico, permit medical uses of marijuana.
You may think you’re hearing a lot about it now, but just wait. Last week, the Associated Press announced a national team of reporters and editors who will now work the pot beat. That team will focus on marijuana legalization and regulation and document how this is all changing so fast.
The AP is a worldwide not-for-profit news cooperative that serves so many online, print and broadcast news outlets that more than half the world’s population sees its content every day.
We think more in-depth coverage is a good thing. It is high time we stop the rhetoric and focus on facts when it comes to drug abuse. People are literally dying for it.