The Trump Administration says they'll be "taking action" against the states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.
Marijuana is the latest thing to come under fire from the new Trump Administration. Despite it being legalized in eight states and the District of Columbia, during a press conference yesterday White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced that the Trump Administration is taking a firm stance on recreational pot use and the Department of Justice will "take action" to enforce the federal policy and curtail state's rights to legalize the substance.
This may not be terribly surprising, as Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, has previously gone on the record saying that "good people don't smoke marijuana," that "marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized," and that it is "a very real danger." But what did raise eyebrows was when Spicer explained the justification for the new crackdown, explaining that pot use is similar to the current opioid epidemic.
"There's a big difference between [medical] and recreational marijuana," Spicer said. "And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people."
But can you really compare the opioid crisis—which killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015, a four-fold increase over the past decade, according to the latest CDC data—with recreational pot use, which killed, oh, no one?
The simple and direct answer? Nope, says Audrey Hope, Ph.D., a celebrity addiction specialist at Seasons in Malibu. "As someone who has worked in the addiction field for over 25 years, I'm absolutely appalled at the statements being made by Spicer and Trump," says Hope. "They're clearly uneducated on this issue as nothing could be further from the truth."
The first problem with this exaggerated claim, she says, is that the two drugs affect the body in completely different ways. Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, bind to opioid receptors in the brain, working to blunt pain signals as well as having a depressive effect on major systems in the body. Marijuana, on the other hand, binds to endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, increasing dopamine (the "feel good" chemical) and promoting relaxation. (Which is probably why cannabis-infused pain creams exist.) Two entirely different mechanisms in the body mean they have entirely different side effects and addiction methods.
The second problem is that the implied connection exacerbates an argument that marijuana is a "gateway drug" to harder substances such as heroin, says Hope. "[They think] pot leads to an opioid epidemic and therefore if they take away the pot, they will help stop opioid use. But one does not have anything to do with the other," she says. "What they are saying is not only false but could hurt people. Taking away legalization of pot simply will not stop an opioid epidemic. We will still have the same numbers of opioid users."
So, no matter what your stance is on recreational marijuana (or medicinal for that matter), likening it to the serious opioid crisis affecting people of all income levels all across the country is just not accurate.