Trump Opioid Commission Ignores Marijuana As Solution

By Tom Angell | July 31, 2017

A Trump administration commission tasked with determining responses to the nation’s opioid addiction and overdose issues appears to have ignored the vast majority of public comments submitted through its official channels.

On Monday, the panel, officially called the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, announced that it has so far received more than 8,000 public comments.

But although two cannabis policy reform organizations — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Marijuana Majority (MM) — together generated at least 8,200 comments urging the panel to examine a growing body of research showing that legal cannabis access is associated with reduced opioid addiction and overdose rates, the commission’s 10-page draft interim report doesn’t mention the issue once.

(Full disclosure: The author of this story is the founder of Marijuana Majority.)

The panel is chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a vocal legalization opponent, and also includes prominent prohibitionists such as former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and former Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) staffer Bertha Madras.

A 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”

A separate study in 2015 found that states with medical cannabis dispensaries “experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.”

A third study, published this year, found that legal medical cannabis is associated with reduced spending on prescription drugs. “If all states had had a medical marijuana law…[annual] total savings for fee-for-service Medicaid could have been $1.01 billion,” it concluded.

Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a federal agency long seen as hostile to legalization, edited its website recently to note that “medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain.”

On a conference call to announce the draft interim report on Monday, Christie called the more than 8,000 comments received “an extraordinary response, one that we are encouraged by” and said that the commission delayed the report’s release — twice — “so we can address those issues” raised in the comments.

But even while the new report itself prominently cites the number of public comments received, it doesn’t include the words “marijuana” or “cannabis” once, even though that issue was the focus of what appears to be the vast majority of feedback sent to the commission.

“If Chris Christie and his commission actively elect to ignore the positive impact marijuana law reform has when it comes to combatting our nation’s opioid crisis, there is zero reason to believe they are letting science dictate the direction of their research,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told MassRoots. “When it comes to cannabis’s relationship to opioids from real-world experience, not bluster and rhetoric, states that have medicinal and recreational cannabis laws on the books see lower rates of overdose, use and overall prescriptions.”

U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, sent the commissioners a letter this month asking them to consider recommendations the lawmakers gathered from stakeholders, including, “Exploring alternatives to opioids for pain management (i.e. medical marijuana).”

While ignoring marijuana’s potential to reduce opioid issues, the commission is instead recommending that President Trump declare declare a “national emergency” to draw attention to the issue, expand treatment capacity, ramp up physician education and increase access to overdose reversal drug naloxone. It also wants the president to step up federal law enforcement efforts to seize illicit  fentanyl and its analogues.

The commission will now turn its attention to drafting a final report, due by October 1.

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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