Arizona Considers Cannabis for Opioid Addiction

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Arizona has always been unfriendly to marijuana – and that's putting it mildly. Although medical marijuana was signed into law in 2011, it wasn't an easy battle. The measure only scraped through by a hair, and the state's attitude toward recreational marijuana hasn't shifted at all. It's still one of the worst states for getting caught with weed, and the legislature seems entirely uninterested in bringing Arizona medical marijuana laws into the modern era. House Bill 2064 may add opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

The Man Behind H.B. 2064

The newest effort to update medical marijuana laws is a bit of a mixed bag. In its original form, as written by Representative Vince Leach, House Bill 2064 was only meant to prevent sales of edibles with packaging that might appeal to kids and the underaged. This packaging change isn't a surprising move, as many states including California, Oregon, and Colorado have already taken measures to make their cannabis packaging as dull as possible.

This is often the route that anti-pot politicians and organizations seek to try and stifle the medical marijuana industry because it's challenging to argue with "think of the children."

It's no surprise that Rep. Leach sponsored the original bill. He's a Republican from Saddlebrook, and he's got a track record of trying to put a negative face on medical marijuana. Back in January 2018, Leach introduced a different measure that would have medical patients footing the bill for anti-drug efforts, including PSAs. When asked about the proposal, Leach clarified his stance on medical marijuana by saying:

"We're obviously not doing a good job of educating people about the harmful effects of drugs, whether they be alcohol, whether they be medical marijuana, whether they be opioids."

Casually sandwiching cannabis right in between two demonstrably deadly substances tells you everything you need to know about the sponsor of H.B. 2064.

Updates to the Measure

CBD Oil Medical Marijuana
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Leach's original bill received blowback from both medical marijuana patients and the manufacturers who produce edibles. Mikel Weisser, executive director of Arizona's National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) chapter, said that he found H.B. 2064 "in its original language and apparent intent, annoying."

An update has occurred to garner more support for H.B. 2064. The strict packaging rules stay, but thanks to negotiation by the Democratic caucus, the bill also stipulates that opioid addiction is added to the list of qualifying conditions.

Current Arizona medical marijuana laws allow a recommendation to be written for patients that have these conditions:

  • Glaucoma
  • Cancer
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Lou Gehrig's disease
  • PTSD

Other qualifying conditions include any that result in wasting syndrome, severe nausea, seizures, and severe chronic pain. Adding opioid use disorder to the list would be unprecedented and have a profound impact on attitudes toward cannabis in the state. Arizona has been experiencing a worrying increase in opioid abuse and addiction, and many in the state view medical marijuana as the lesser of two evils.

Cannabis & Opioid Use

Although it's still early days for many states with medical marijuana programs, the studies currently available make it clear that medical marijuana leads to lower rates of opioid use.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a comprehensive study in early 2017, which stated in no uncertain terms that marijuana is effective at easing pain.

Researchers used data pulled from Medicare databases.

Their research came up with a clear correlation: States with medical cannabis programs had 14% fewer opioid prescriptions than states without plans.

The researchers were quick to specify that there are likely other factors at work, but it's hard to ignore the sensible explanation. People know that opioids are dangerous and addictive, so of course, they would instead try something infinitely more benign.

Access to cannabis can lead to lower people becoming addicted to opioids in the first place, and its viability as a treatment for addiction is stepping into the light as well.

CBD & Addiction: A Promising New Study

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Many medical marijuana patients are in it for the cannabidiol (CBD). This is the compound in cannabis that doesn't get you high, and it's known for its wide range of therapeutic medical applications. A new study from the Scripps Research Institute evaluated CBD's potential in preventing relapse in animals.

Rats with "alcohol or cocaine self-administration histories" (a fancy term for "rats we turned into junkies") were given transdermal CBD every 24 hours for a week. The other addicted rats were given nothing. Researchers discovered the CBD-dosed rats showed less stress-induced behavior, less drug-seeking behavior, and were overall less likely to relapse.

The kicker?

These results persisted a full five months after all CBD exited the rats' systems.

A Turning Point for Arizona

This incredibly promising research will lead to further studies, and drug companies may hop on the CBD train to make addiction treatments. But for now, the best option is to allow greater access to cannabis for addiction, like the change H.B. 2064 would make Arizona medical marijuana laws.

The most surprising part of the situation is that Arizona lawmakers don't seem opposed to the measure. The bill easily garnered the three-fourths majority required to change the voter-approved initiative. It has already passed the House and is ready to move forward in the legislative process.

The state's Governor Doug Ducey is notoriously anti-pot and may veto the change to Arizona medical marijuana laws. It's worth noting though that he did recently sign a hemp bill, making the plant a legitimate agricultural crop.

It seems there may be some real positive change happening for medical cannabis in Arizona.