Legislators in New York Want Mary Jane to Fight Addiction

pill bottle for opioids in hands

ALBANY, N.Y.: New York legislators proposed a bill that would include opiate addiction as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The Daily News reported that the legislation was proposed last week to the Assembly and Senate.

The measure was introduced by Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell (D-Manhattan) and can help to end the opioid crises by helping addicts who are in detox with anxiety, nausea, and withdrawal symptoms. O'Donnell says that people are dying as a result of the opiate epidemic and that marijuana can also help to keep people who decide to get clean from relapsing.

He also argues that marijuana is much safer then current drugs being used to treat opiate addicts. Methadone and Suboxone are two drugs commonly used to treat addicts, and they can both be fatal if an overdose occurs. No one has ever died from overdosing on marijuana. The bill was passed by the Assembly Health Committee 23-1.

New York state currently allows medical marijuana for specific conditions only, including cancer, HIV and AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, PTSD, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), who is a member of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference and a sponsor of the medical marijuana law in New York, says that she is hopeful that the bill will be passed by June. She added that if we have a way to help people who have faced the "horror of addiction," we shouldn't stand in the way.

Evidence already exists indicating that marijuana for opioid addiction treatment would be successful. The Washington Post reported that a study published by the American Journal of Public Health showed that after marijuana was legalized in Colorado, overdoses from opiates decreased. Another study concluded that between 2010 and 2013, Medicare prescriptions declined in the states that have legal medical marijuana. 

More Than 1 Million Could Die from Overdoses

At least 175 people die every day from opiate overdoses, and an article published by USA Today said that about one million people will die from an overdose by 2020.

Other states are also proposing similar bills to combat the opioid epidemic. A senator in Illinois proposed a bill last year that would trade prescription medications for medical marijuana. Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) introduced the Alternatives to Opioids Act, which would allow both addicts and those with prescriptions to use medical marijuana.

A Tennessee politician is also pushing for medical marijuana to treat opiate addiction. Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) sponsored a bill that was introduced to the House Health Committee that would legalize medical marijuana and help to fight the heroin epidemic in the state. He produced evidence from a University of Michigan study in 2016 that showed 64 percent of patients decreased their opioid use once they started medicating with marijuana. He added that it's the prescription drugs killing people, not marijuana. More than 1,400 people died in the state from a drug overdose in 2015 alone.

Perhaps the deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Melissa Moore, said it best when she said that marijuana was not a gateway drug to opioids and other narcotics, as people opposed to legal marijuana frequently claim. She says that marijuana could potentially be an exit for opioid addicts.

The Chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau County), said he would need more clarification on how the drug would be administered before proceeding. He added that research regarding the impact of using marijuana for opioid addiction in New York needs to be addressed as well.