For many, it seems counterintuitive, not to mention immoral that drug legalization of any kind would reduce addiction and death. But in other countries such as Portugal, legalizing or decriminalizing certain drugs like marijuana, has led to an enormous improvement in the rate of addiction and death due to drug abuse. In ending the drug war we have to constantly fight against decades of ignorant propaganda, not to mention certain religious groups that vehemently denounce any policy that would support the legalization or decriminalization of drugs. As I’ve written many times before, the comparison between the war on drugs and prohibition yields profound insight regarding the lack of efficacy and our nation’s continued struggle with addiction. We are by far the number one consumer of a multitude of drugs, both legal and illegal; cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and prescription painkillers.
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Marijuana – Same Strategy; Same Outcome
The most recent class of drugs that has swept the United States of America off of its’ collective feet is opioids. Americans alone use over 90% of the entire world’s Percocet and Vicodin supply; this is a troubling fact. Deaths due to opioid overdose have absolutely skyrocketed beyond epic proportions, making overdose the number one killer ahead of guns and car accidents. President Donald Trump recently declared opioid addiction a national emergency, leading to a meeting in which a panel discussed strategies to end this deadly epidemic. If you read the panel recommendations there are a few positives, (allocating tax dollars towards harm reduction and treatment efforts) but more or less it is pretty much what we have been doing for decades now. They want to lock up drug dealers, a tactic that has not worked at all for four decades, but somehow they think it will now? They’re going to encourage doctors to write less opioid prescriptions, which is good and bad. But even where this idea is good, an addict who can no longer get a prescription opioid will simply purchase it from another patient who can. Or, they will just go buy heroin, which is readily available on our inner city street corners 24/7.
A New Approach to Solving the Opioid Crisis
I’d like to talk about a much different idea; the wholesale legalization of marijuana. Over the last decade, several states have already legalized marijuana one way or another, whether exclusively for medicinal purposes or for recreational purposes as well. States in which marijuana is legal have provided a unique opportunity for experimentation. We now have the results of many of these studies, and just like “Shakira’s hips”, the numbers don’t lie. For example, a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that opioid overdose deaths decreased by 25% in states that passed medical marijuana laws. Another study published by the RAND Corporation found a decrease in opioid addiction and overdoses in states with medical marijuana dispensaries. The University of Michigan published a retrospective survey of 244 patients struggling with chronic pain and found that many of them were substituting medical marijuana for prescription opioids. The decrease in opioid use was extraordinarily profound; they found that 64% of patients had reduced or entirely stopped their use of opioids in favor of medical marijuana. They also reported fewer side effects, an overall reduction in pain levels and an improvement in their quality of life.
The Downsides of Marijuana are Overstated
The problem with attempting to legalize drugs, in general, is that people will protest based on ancient propaganda and false assumptions. Evidence from studies conducted in Colorado shows that the use of marijuana by teens hasn’t even slightly increased since the drug was legalized there. Many studies time after time have demonstrated that Marijuana is considerably less harmful to the lungs than cigarettes. Even if marijuana were as harmful to the lungs as cigarettes it would be irrelevant. We now have a plethora of devices that can be used to vaporize marijuana instead of smoking it, thereby negating all concerns related to lung damage. Besides, aren’t cigarettes still legal? You see, this is the problem with the argument against legalization of marijuana; even when you can come up with a legitimate downside, it can either be matched or exceeded by multiple currently legal drugs such as alcohol and/or tobacco. More importantly, the downside is often overstated.
We Need New Ideas
We have a huge drug problem in this country. I can’t even tell you how many friends I’ve lost, let alone how many “RIP” status updates I’ve seen on social media over the years. We cannot afford to let potentially life-saving drugs go to waste because of old propaganda and federal overreach. We’ve tried everything else we could think of; jail, rehab, shutting down pain clinics and arresting crooked doctors, but it’s not working. I think the government needs to legalize drugs, period. But I’m willing to concede that certain drugs are more worthy of legalization first. Marijuana is a drug that needs to be legalized on the federal level as soon as possible. In many treatment programs throughout the nation, addicts are already being treated with marijuana. Also, many chronic pain patients who would otherwise become addicts are substituting their opioid prescriptions for medical marijuana instead. This prevents future addicts from being created in the first place. I’m not necessarily saying that marijuana is our savior, but it could be.
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