Could Jeff Sessions' marijuana ruling make the Opioid crisis even worse?

Here's how the attorney general's weed announcement could affect medical marijuana users.

It’s too early, though, to tell just how significant the impact will be.

On Thursday, Sessions rescinded a decision made in 2013 that adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, the New York Times reported.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law,” Sessions said in a statement.


It could be a very significant decision, depending on how it is enforced, says Lawrence Gostin, a professor of law and the director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

“Federal law normally trumps state law, so a violation of a federal criminal statute could result in significant penalties including imprisonment, even if the act is lawful under state law,” Gostin told Men’s Health.

With Sessions' decision, people selling or using marijuana for medical purposes could be prosecuted.

“As a result, it would pose a chilling effect on the use of marijuana for needed medical purposes, even if prescribed by a doctor in accordance with state law,” Gostin says.

While medical marijuana can’t be legally prescribed, possessed, or sold under federal law, its use to treat some medical conditions is legal under many state laws, according to the American Cancer Society. Currently, 29 states have medical marijuana laws. The Sessions decision could put the kibosh on many of those “compassionate use” laws, though.


“It could exclude one of the key ways that physicians can help their patients and reduce suffering. It might also result in greater use of less effective and more addictive medications such as opioids,” Gostin says.

Currently, the U.S. is experiencing an opioid epidemic. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids quadrupled, and prescription opioids are a driving factor in the increase, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under the Sessions policy reversal, a cancer patient currently using a marijuana-based drug to ease pain or nausea may have that right taken away.

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which represents hundreds of cannabis farmers in the state, says, “I think we really need to wait and see how the prosecutors around the country choose to implement this new guidance. The impact could be very minimal or it could be very severe and it will come down to how those prosecutors decide to navigate it, to test water.”

California, the country’s most populous state, legalized pot for recreational use for adults 21 and older just a few days ago.


“Our membership was very heartened by the condemnation and criticism this decision received from policy makers of all different backgrounds, both parties,” Allen says.

The marijuana market in states that allow medical or recreational use is estimated at around $6 billion and projected to increase to $9 billion by the end of 2018, and there are about 4,500 medical and recreational shops across the country, according to the New York Times. If the federal government fights sellers and individuals using marijuana in states where it's been legalized, "it could be a costly and time-consuming" battle, Allen says.


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