The Trump administration should carefully consider how legalizing marijuana can help reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths, Sen. Elizabeth Warren says.
“Medical marijuana has the potential to mitigate the effects of the opioid crisis,” she wrote in a letter to Alex Azar, President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Warren cited a recent American Journal of Public Health study that found legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths, saying the results are “consistent with other data from states that have developed laws for medical or recreational marijuana use.”
In the Tuesday letter to Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, Warren asks:
1. As HHS Secretary, what would you do to further study this potential alternative to opioids?
2. Are you committed to implementing evidence-based policies regarding its use?
3. What steps will you take to improve our knowledge of the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana when used for medical purposes?
The Democratic senator from Massachusetts, where voters approved a marijuana legalization ballot measure last year, has also pressed the federal government on other cannabis issues, such as the ability of growers and sellers in the industry to access banking services. She is a cosponsor of a bill to allow financial services providers to work with marijuana businesses without running afoul of federal drug and money laundering laws.
A Trump administration commission chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) recently rejected the idea that legalizing marijuana could play a role in helping to solve the opioid crisis, despite a growing number of studies indicating that ending prohibition is associated with reduced addiction and overdose deaths.
Azar will appear at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), of which Warren is a member, on Wednesday.
Warren previously questioned the Trump administration first health and human services secretary, Tom Price, about marijuana’s potential to reduce opioid issues prior to his confirmation, but he never responded.
In the new letter to Azar, the Massachusetts senator also asks about syringe exchange programs and supervised injection facilities, which advocates say result in safer outcomes for consumers of illegal drugs.
Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.