Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Speculating about impact on the opioid crisis as Ohio finally sees its first legal medical marijuana sale

Here is a silly trivia question:  How did some people in Ohio celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the alcohol prohibition amendment? 

Answer: By finally being able to purchase medical marijuana in the state legally. 

Remarkably, it has taken more than 30 months form the Buckeye State to go from the passage of a medical marijuana law to the opening up of the first legal dispensaries.  And, not surprisingly, this new NBC News piece is already asking whether this development will help with the state's opioid problems.  Here are excerpts:

Leaning on her cane, Joan Caleodis stepped gingerly into history on Wednesday as one of the first people to legally purchase medical marijuana in the state of Ohio.

Caleodis, who is 55 and suffers from multiple sclerosis, paid $150 for three containers, each holding 2.83 grams of dried cannabis flowers, at the CY + Dispensary in the town of Wintersville.

“I’m feeling ecstatic,” Caleodis told reporters as other pain sufferers waiting in line applauded. “The patients no longer have to wait for relief. We can get rid of this opioid issue we have in this country.” Caleodis said she felt even better when she got home and tried out her purchase. “I was curious and I am very happy with the quality,” she told NBC News. “Some days are worse than others, but I am pretty much in constant pain and right now I am not.”

A former state worker who went on disability after 27 years on the job, Caleodis said she was prescribed opioids for pain after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than eight years ago. “I found myself taking double the amount prescribed and told myself, ‘I’m not going that route’,” she said. “This is definitely better.”

While medical marijuana is now available in the Buckeye State, it is unclear if the change will put a dent into the state's opioid epidemic. Ohio is one of “the top five states with the highest rates for opioid-related overdose deaths,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are regulated in Ohio by the state Board of Pharmacy. When asked if the state views legal pot as a potential weapon in the battle against the deadly opioid epidemic, a Board spokesman replied, “The state has no official policy on this.”

The same question was posed to newly-installed Gov. Mike DeWine, who as attorney general sued the pharmaceutical companies for flooding his state with prescription painkillers. His team referred a reporter to the state Board of Pharmacy....

“There’s some suggestive evidence that marijuana may help to reduce opioid use,” Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-founder of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectivenesss at the Bloomberg School posted. “There’s also some evidence to the contrary.”

Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the RAND Corporation said in the same forum that she was in favor of expanding medical marijuana programs, but added, “I do not believe that doing so will substantially impact the opioid epidemic. “

“Most people substituting cannabis for opioids are not using either drug medicinally,” she wrote. “Moreover, research does not suggest that cannabis is a substitute for heroin or fentanyl, the major drivers of the epidemic today.”

Mark Parrino of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence said, “It is counterintuitive to advocate for the legalization of marijuana while our nation is struggling with an opioid use disorder epidemic.” “While medical use of marijuana may be beneficial in some cases, I do not think that it is reasonable to promote marijuana as a positive medical treatment,” he wrote.

Caleodis said anyone who thinks marijuana doesn’t help should take a walk in her shoes. She said she has used other “black market” cannabis products to easy her anguish over the years. “My symptoms are always there, I feel a burning in my feet just about all the time,” she said. “And at night it is way worse. Sometimes I just can’t sleep. But tonight I think I will.”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2019/01/speculating-about-impact-on-the-opioid-crisis-as-ohio-finally-sees-its-first-legal-medical-marijuana.html

History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink

Comments

As an Ohio resident, I can only hope that medical marijuana will help alleviate the opioid crisis currently facing our state. I would think that doctors will begin to prescribe medical marijuana to treat pain rather than prescribing painkillers like opioids. Naturally, this would help somewhat with the opioid crisis. However, doctors are clearly not the only "dealers" that have caused the opioid crisis, so it will likely still persist. Medical marijuana is a much better alternative to treat pain, but as noted in the article, opioid users and marijuana smokers don't always use drugs for medicinal purposes. I think a key question in this analysis is whether or not marijuana truly is a gateway drug, as it has so commonly been referred. If it is, then new users of marijuana might be susceptible to experimenting with more harmful drugs, such as opioids, to achieve "stronger" highs.

Posted by: Jack Meadows | Jan 17, 2019 12:42:19 PM

Post a comment