When Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood in front of reporters last week to announce the opening of a new DEA field office to combat the opioid crisis, it was clear that not much had changed in the federal government’s approach to drug abuse. As politicians and narcotics agents continue to recycle brute-force methods of beating the drugs out of America, a more civilized answer is crying out to them from the side of a highway in Indiana.
Alongside the I-70 eastbound toward Indianapolis, there’s now a billboard which reads: “States with Medical Cannabis have 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths.” The group responsible for this public service announcement is the Indiana branch of the marijuana advocacy group NORML. The billboard references a 2014 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Clearly, [medical marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction] should be part of our national dialogue,” NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal told HERB, citing a study from Bastyr University Research Institute which found that nearly 36 percent of participants eliminated their dependence on opioids with the use of cannabis.
Indiana is in dire need of some healthcare alternatives. The state’s small towns have been overrun with opioids in recent years. The I-70 cuts right through the town of Terre Haute, one of the 15 cities in America most heavily impacted by the opioid crisis, according to a countrywide analysis by health research firm Castlight. Further North, a hospital in the town of Marion, received 832,310 pills of hydrocodone, a highly addictive semi-synthetic opioid, just for the year of 2014. A year later, the VA hospital in Fort Wayne received nearly a million pills, according to local reports. All the while, a safer alternative was within reach.
Most recently a study from the University of Mississippi found that CBD, a compound which can be isolated from cannabis, blocks the chemical reaction in the brain that is responsible for causing opiate addiction. As if to spite the researchers, the Governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb, recently ordered state police to continue a crackdown on CBD oil products, giving retailers two months to pull them from their shelves.
“[T]he Excise Police will use the next 60 days to educate, inform and issue warnings to retailers,” Holcomb said in a statement.
The crackdown is targeting CBD products that might contain THC, the component of cannabis that makes consumers feel high. According to Indiana’s medical marijuana regulations, CBD oil can only be used by patients who are registered with the state’s Health Department.
In a November interview with a local news station the state’s Attorney General, Curtis Hill, gave his opinion on marijuana saying that he didn’t see much of a difference between the plant’s distinct chemicals.
“CBD is a derivative of the marijuana plant,” Hill said, “and by definition is still marijuana, and by definition is still a Schedule I drug which is still unlawful under the current state of the law.”
Hill has rarely shied away from making his opinion on marijuana known. In an op-ed for the IndyStar, he wrote: “These [marijuana legalization] activists want you to believe their end goal is inevitable…The only question in their minds is how long they must wait for the rest of us backward Hoosiers (as they see us) to embrace their agenda.”
To his credit, Hill rightly points out that cannabis could be detrimental to those who start to smoke at a very young age— several studies have explored this. But the real question that’s likely on the minds of activists is why “backward” politicians are cherry-picking their facts in the face of a national crisis…especially when the answer they’re looking for is towering over the interstate.