Reefer madness is alive and well. The New York Times reported Wednesday that while some Democratic lawmakers in New Hampshire have been pushing for the establishment of a recreational weed market, they are meeting resistance from the state's two Democratic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, as well its Republican Governor Chris Sununu, all of whom object to legal weed out of concern that it will exacerbate the state's opioid crisis.
This is dumb. The "gateway drug" theory that smoking weed leads to hard drug use has never been proven—the vast majority of weed smokers don't go on to use heroin—and, what's more, states with recreational and medical cannabis markets do not have bigger opioid problems than states where weed is still prohibited. In fact, the reverse is true: a 2014 study found that states with some kind of medical cannabis markets actually had lower rates of opioid deaths than those where weed is still totally illegal.
A 2017 study also found that access to cannabis correlated with a decrease in opioid use. That study, from researchers at the University of New Mexico, looked at two groups of patients who had a chronic pain diagnosis. One group was enrolled in a medical cannabis program, the other was not, and after five years of analyzing patients' prescription activity, researchers found that those who enrolled in the medical marijuana program didn't just show significantly reduced opioid use, they also showed significant reductions in the use of other prescription drugs like benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for anxiety.
"[The study] basically suggests that cannabis may be more effective in not only treating patients on certain classes of prescription drugs like opiates, but perhaps a broader spectrum of controlled medications," study lead author Jacob Miguel Vigil told me in an interview shortly after it was published.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, New Hampshire has among the high rate of overdose deaths in the country, second only to West Virginia. In 2017, drug overdoses killed 487 people in that state, the majority of them from opioids like heroin and fentanyl. Not a single one of those deaths were caused by cannabis, a drug that is believed to be impossible to overdose and die on. You'd pass out with your hand in a bag of Cheetos before you even came close, and contrary to the notion that it leads to later drug abuse, people are actually using weed to get off of opioids. "People coming off heroin are managing to bridge their withdrawals through cannabis," Vigil told me. "I hear it all the time. All the time."
Cannabis has long been unfairly maligned, both by government leaders and the press. This is changing as more and more states choose to legalize this plant and find that it doesn't lead to any kind of public health crisis (and it has little impact on use among kids). Still, some people will have to be brought kicking and screaming into the new paradigm, a number of New Hampshire's leaders included.