Sessions and Christie Must Stop Telling Lies About Marijuana

Donald Trump, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (left) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions attend a panel discussion on an opioid and drug abuse in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty

Congress just gave the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which bars the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute people buying or selling medical marijuana in states that have legalized it, a temporary reprieve until Dec. 22.

However, as Rep. Earl Blumenauer, (D-Ore.) stated, "Two weeks is not enough certainty," especially when you are talking about patients' well-being and a North American cannabis marketplace largely made up of small business owners and their employees that is expected to grow 33 percent to nearly $10 billion in 2017 and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the New Year.

A recent Gallup poll revealed support for legalizing marijuana is the highest it's been since the question was first asked in the US in 1969. The poll showed a four-point uptick from a year ago with 64 percent of Americans supporting legalizing marijuana for medical and adult use.

In addition to Democrats or independents supporting legalization, Republicans for the first time backed fully legalizing cannabis, a plant found to be far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, two federally legal substances under US law.

However, despite widespread bipartisan support for legalization and the positive impacts cannabis has had on patients, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems set on launching another failed federal "War on Drugs" campaign and cracking down on states that have partly or completely legalized marijuana use.

Sessions's misguided approaches are mirrored by an equally disturbing misinformation effort by the chairman of the Trump Administration's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, the unpopular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

In the fall, Christie released a letter announcing recommendations made by the opioids commission and at an event announcing these recommendations, he called supporters of marijuana legalization "crazy liberals" who want to "poison our kids." Christie went on to compare medical marijuana laws to the over-prescribing of opioids that led to the current opioids epidemi c.

Many Americans and healthcare professionals were equally shocked and angered by the Commission's report and Christie's remarks. In fact, Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, a professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that conducted the First Long-Term Study on Medical Marijuana's Impact on Opioid Use for Pain, stated to CNN:

I was surprised to see negative language about marijuana in the opioid report. Research that examines pain and marijuana shows that marijuana use significantly reduces pain. In addition, the majority of studies examining marijuana and opioids show that marijuana use is associated with less opioid use and less opioid-related deaths.

On the other hand, the opioid epidemic, which was largely sparked by a quadrupling of federally legal doctor-prescribed painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin since 1999, caused 59,000 deaths due to overdoses in 2016 according to a recent investigation by the New York Times. Tragically, this makes deaths from opioids the leading cause of death of Americans under age 50.

Unfortunately, having lost loved ones to the nation's opioid crisis, I think everyone agrees we must do everything we can to address our failed drug policies.

However, we shouldn't tolerate lies about cannabis and successful approaches to fairly license, tax, regulate and enforce the plant. We also shouldn't accept Christie's and Sessions's failed "War on Drugs" rhetoric, which only appears to be filled with personal ideologies and void of any sound supporting data and scientific facts as a viable drug reforms for our country. We can and must do better.

The truth is, science years ago discredited the idea that cannabis is a gateway drug and scientific research increasingly shows that access to medical marijuana can help decrease rates of opioid addiction and death.

The 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research 's analysis found states with medical cannabis laws saw as much as a 35 percent drop in substance abuse treatment admissions and a 31 percent reduction in opioid overdoses.

A report issued earlier this year by Drug and Alcohol Dependence also found that states with legalized medical cannabis programs saw an average drop in opioid use of 23 percent in states after legalizing medical cannabis.

In this era of "alternative facts" and misinformation, it is critical that Americans hold elected and appointed officials like Christie and Sessions accountable for making statements masked as facts.

If our nation is serious about recognizing the factors that lead to its opioids crisis and failed 'War on Drugs' policies, we can no longer tolerate Reefer Madness scare tactics as a viable policy approaches.

Rather, we should come together to call on Congress to act and to put an end to this cycle of uncertainty and permanently protect state medical marijuana programs — and adult use — from federal interference.

Ryan Jennemann is the co-founder of THC Design, a cultivator of cannabis in California and longtime legalization advocate.