Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Medical marijuana no cure for opioid crisis

Compassion | New study finds overdoses went up in states that legalized pot for medical uses
by Charissa Koh
Posted 6/19/19, 02:00 pm

Opioid overdose rates have increased in states where medical marijuana is legal, according to a study that contradicts previous findings released last week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers conducted a study in 2014 of the 13 states that had legal medical marijuana between 1999 and 2010. A different team published a study this month using the exact same methods but adding data from the states that allowed cannabis for medical use between 2010 and 2017. The first study showed that opioid overdose deaths decreased in states with medical marijuana by 25 percent, but the second one showed a 23 percent increase in those states’ opioid overdose deaths.

Neither study looked for a reason behind the trend, but some took the first study to suggest chronic pain patients were choosing medical marijuana over opioids. The dramatic shift in the second study means the two substances probably do not affect each other after all, Chelsea Shover, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University and an author of the new report, told The Atlantic.

Mark Duncan, a Washington state medical doctor who specializes in addiction psychiatry, said despite the inconsistent evidence, marijuana does have medicinal properties that can be useful. Still, he told me, the results of the second study did not surprise him. “I have rarely seen my patients with chronic pain successfully switch from opioids to cannabis for pain management,” he said. “Most patients have already tried it or are using it and did not find it that helpful to be able to stop using opioids. Anecdotally, I have not heard of less patients looking for pain management from providers in Washington after cannabis was legalized.”

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I illegal drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and no medicinal qualities. Scientists have only limited ability to do research on it, and they do not have much evidence on its long-term effects. This study casts doubt on some of the research they do have, highlighting the risk that remains despite many claims that medical marijuana is safe.

Associated Press/Photo by Richard Vogel Associated Press/Photo by Richard Vogel A homeless encampment in Los Angeles

Rich state, poor state

California is the third-richest state in the union, according to U.S. News & World Report, but it has the highest poverty rate, as well. Mark Perry, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently ranked states by their poverty rate. The U.S. government’s official poverty measure ranks California 16th for poverty, with Louisiana and Mississippi having the highest rates. But by using a supplemental poverty measure that accounts for housing prices and noncash benefits along with income, Perry found California ranked first.

California’s increased poverty rate is largely due to the high cost of living in the state, driven by housing and taxes, Perry wrote. In a Los Angeles Times opinion column, Kerry Jackson, Pacific Research Institute’s fellow in California studies, asked why the liberal state was the “poverty capital of America.” He pointed out that state lawmakers have provided massive entitlements to the needy, and “in some cases, individuals with incomes 200 percent above the poverty line receive benefits.”

But the state largely bypassed the welfare reforms other states implemented a few decades ago. Instead of tying work requirements to welfare benefits, the state continued handouts with no expectations. Now, “to keep growing its budget … a welfare bureaucracy has an incentive to expand its ‘customer’ base,” Jackson wrote. —C.C.

Associated Press/Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star (file) Associated Press/Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star (file) Scott Warren

Compassion or conspiracy?

A jury failed to decide last week whether to convict an activist for assisting migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. As part of the group No More Deaths, Scott Warren left canned food and jugs of water in the Arizona wilderness where many migrants travel to cross into the United States. In 2018, authorities arrested him and eight other members of the group and charged them with crimes.

Warren, who had given food, water, and shelter directly to two migrants, also faced felony charges of conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants. His defense lawyer argued that he acted out of compassion, while the prosecutor claimed he helped the two men dodge law enforcement and enter the country illegally. On Monday the jury was split, but the judge told them to keep deliberating. When no progress came on Tuesday, the jury was dismissed and a mistrial was declared. A status hearing is scheduled for July 2 to determine if Warren, facing 20 years in prison, will face another trial. —C.C.

Undocumented healthcare

California recently became the first state to fund healthcare benefits for undocumented immigrants. The budget passed by the California legislature Thursday allows young immigrant adults to enroll in the state’s Medicaid program. In 2016, California began providing healthcare for undocumented immigrant children. The expansion is set to take effect in January and cost $98 million, The Sacramento Bee reported. —C.C.

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a reporter for WORLD based in Austin, Texas. Follow Charissa on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Thu, 06/20/2019 07:16 am

    If marijuana is medically useful or even necessary why don't they dispense it in pharmacies? It appears that medical marijuana is a stepping stone to making it available for recreational use.  I remember using pot and what I remember most was the distortion of time and space.  I would perceive things to be bigger or smaller or more distant than they were.  Granted we were trying to get high and reveling in our lack of perception but what about small unnoticeable changes in, for instance, driving ability.  So many vehicles I meet now on a two lane road drift over center as they approach (I live close to Oklahoma).  Is it my perception that's off or theirs?  How will laws against impaired driving be enforced?  


  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 06/21/2019 10:06 am

    In answer to your questions.  They are dispensing it in pharmacies and that is a stepping stone to the legalization for “recreational” use.  I never used pot, but in college I remember how spaced out my fellow students were who did smoke it. That really turned me off.  MJ stays in your system longer than alcohol does, so they don’t really know how to test for active impairment.  But as soon as enough people get killed and injured in auto accidents they will figure it out.  Most cars drifting across lanes today are due to cell phone texting.  Which is also driving double digit auto insurance rate increases.  (I work in the insurance business)