Bills Allow Treating Opioid Issues With Marijuana

By Tom Angell | March 20, 2017

Two states are racing to become the first in the country to let people legally treat opioid addiction with medical marijuana.

In New Mexico, a bill to add opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition under the state's existing medical cannabis program was given final approval by the legislature late Friday night and is now headed to the desk of Gov. Susana Martinez.

Also on Friday, in Nebraska, a bill to allow nonsmokable forms of medical cannabis to treat a number of conditions, including opioid addiction, was approved by the unicameral Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

The relationship between marijuana and opioids is quickly becoming one of the most contentious debates in drug policy.

While several studies show that states with legal marijuana access see reduced overdoses and other opioid issues, prohibitionists continue to argue that cannabis use is a "gateway" to misuse of other, more dangerous drugs.

In a recent speech, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said:

"I’m astonished to hear people suggest we can solve our heroin crisis — have you heard this? — by having more marijuana. I mean, how stupid is that! Give me a break!"

The New Mexico bill adds a number of qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana law, in addition to opioid use disorder. Also included are PTSD, Crohn's disease, ALS, hepatitis C, Parkinson's disease and severe chronic pain, among others. (Those conditions were already approved administratively by the Department of Health, but if the new bill is signed into law they will be protected by statute so they can't later be removed through an act by regulators.)

The legislation would also protect child custody rights of medical marijuana patients and would prevent people from being denied organ donations just because they participate in the medical cannabis program.

And the bill directs regulators to create reciprocity rules to "enable nonresidents who qualify as medical cannabis patients in another state to participate in the medical cannabis program."

Martinez, a Republican, isn't generally supportive of cannabis law reform and recently vetoed industrial hemp legislation. She has 20 days to either veto or sign the new medical cannabis legislation.

The governor "has the opportunity to save lives by signing" the bill, Jessica Gelay, New Mexico policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. "Marijuana is a safe and effective medicine for problematic substance use, and we need to recognize it as such, not doing so would be negligent. Research has shown that marijuana can lower opioid cravings, side effects, and withdrawal symptoms and enhances the analgesic effects of opioids.”

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is opposed to his state's pending medical marijuana legislation.

New Hampshire lawmakers defeated two separate bills to allow treating opioid issues with medical cannabis this year.

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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