Attorney General Jeff Sessions is using the public health crisis of the nation's opioid epidemic to justify an assault on states that legally allow the medicinal use of marijuana. He is once again on the wrong side of the drug war with a policy that could actually drive rather than curb the drug trade. Given the death toll that opiates have taken in Florida, the state's attorney general, Pam Bondi, should use her clout with President Donald Trump to set the administration straight.
In a May letter that became public Monday, Sessions asked congressional leaders to remove from legislation any language that would prevent the Justice Department from using its funds or authority to preclude states "from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."
Sessions said the protections, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, would "inhibit" his department's ability to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, and he said it would be "unwise" for Congress to tie the hands of federal prosecutors "in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime." Congress adopted the amendment in 2014.
"The department must be in a position," Sessions said, "to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives."
For Sessions to confuse the opioid epidemic with the right of states to administer medical marijuana in an orderly process is reckless. People are not dying from marijuana; they are dying from their addiction to deadly opiates. Speaking of the two in a single context only distorts reality. And it ignores the will of the voters in states who view medical marijuana not as a criminal threat but an exercise in public welfare. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in April found that it was supported by 94 percent of the public. Although the drug remains illegal under federal law, 28 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of medical marijuana in some form.
Cracking down on states where marijuana is legal could squeeze more people into the market for opiates, fueling a deadly cycle and violent crime. This may not be a consequence the attorney general intends, but it's a predictable scenario and a risk Florida cannot take. Of the 65,000 deaths estimated from drug overdoses nationwide last year, nearly 11,000 occurred in Florida. Bondi, who fought hard as attorney general against the pain-pill mills, should educate her counterpart in the federal government. Sessions needs to realize that the threat comes not from the deliberative process of states attending to the needs of those suffering chronic pain, but from the ease that narco-pushers enjoy in trafficking opiates.