Senate Rebukes Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Medical Marijuana

(from wikipedia.org)

Since taking over at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been attempting to reignite the “War on Drugs” (for example, he issued a memo to federal prosecutors calling for the them to seek the harshest possible sentence when dealing with low-level drug offenders, the exact opposite of Obama-era guidance).

Sessions now has his sites on state-run medical marijuana programs (marijuana is still listed as a Schedule 1 illegal drug according to the DEA, the most severe categorization for drugs). In May, Sessions tried to pressure Congress to not stop him from authorizing the DOJ to prosecute medical marijuana clinics and patients.

Sessions attack on medical marijuana would be extremely harmful to not only the patients that benefit from medical marijuana but may even increase opioid overdose deaths in those states (there’s actually a growing body of scientific evidence that opioid overdose deaths are reduced in states with legalization of marijuana; I plan to write a more detailed post on this in the near future).

Thankfully the Senate has taken measures to prevent Sessions from being able to take action against medical marijuana. A bipartisan committee approved an amendment to the 2018 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill. The amendment does not allow DOJ to use funds to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” In essence, even if Sessions instructed Federal law enforcement agents to target medical marijuana clinics and patients, they would be unable to do so because it would be illegal to use any federal dollars to carry out this action.

Time will tell what other ways Sessions will try revive antiquated drug policy (if he survives his tenure as AG that is). A study in the Lancet last year examined the public health impact of  drug policy throughout the world (future post on this too) and concluded, among other things, that “policing practices undertaken in the name of the public good have demonstrably worsened public health outcomes.” Clearly, Sessions didn’t read this report…

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) Calls for an End to the “War on Drugs”

war-on-drugs-no

A recent editorial in the British Medial Journal (the BMJ) has called for an end to the “War on Drugs”, which costs about $100 Billion/year and has failed to prevent both drug use and drug proliferation.

The article points out how the “War on Drugs”, the term used to collectively describe the laws penalizing drug use, has had a wide-range of negative effects. For example, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world and about half of those arrests are due to drug-related arrests.

The health effects have been drastic as well. Stigma against opioid replacement therapies like methadone has resulted in increased deaths due to opioid overdose in countries that limit access. Stigma and discrimination against addicts, as well of fear of punishment for for usage, often leads away from health care services to unsafe drug-use practices that can spread HIV and Hepatitis C, and other unintended poor-health outcomes.

Importantly, the editors call for rational, evidence-based, drug-specific approach to regulation and strong involvement of  the scientific and medical communities. Obviously, the risks of something like marijuana are much lower than for heroin but how will drug policy reflect this? Research is required to support any efforts in order to identify the best practices and strategies.

The editors point out that a recent article in the Lancet “concluded that governments should decriminalise minor drug offences, strengthen health and social sector approaches, move cautiously towards regulated drug markets where possible, and scientifically evaluate the outcomes to build pragmatic and rational policy.”

Above all, a change in drug policy must benefit human health and there will be no “one size fits all” approach. The road ahead is difficult but one thing is certain, the road that led us here is a dead end. The “War on Drugs” has failed; the call now is to develop a national and international drug policy that won’t.