Curbing the Opioid Crisis with Legalized Cannabis

2,200. 2,200 of our neighbors died from opioids in New Jersey in 2016 alone. That is over 2000 of our friends, coworkers, siblings, children, and parents that we were not able to save from this epidemic.  Every year we lose more and more people to these highly addictive drugs and it seems we have only put a dent in the problem. While I am proud to have been on several bills to help stop people from getting addicted to these drugs and to provide resources for those who are already addicted, it is time we look at other alternatives. That is just one of the reasons I support legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

In 2012 Colorado, along with Washington, became the first states to approve the sale and recreational use of marijuana for adults. While there were many reasons supporters of legalization cited, the argument that rang the loudest to me was the moral imperative to provide an alternative to highly addictive pain medication. These pain medications are time and time again over-prescribed to patients who then get hooked. When the pills run out they turn to the black market to get their fix and all too often the story ends the same tragic way.  But what would happen if we had a safe, natural alternative that is not a gateway to strong, deadly drugs?  

Well, now we know what happens. Since legalization took effect in Colorado there has been a decrease in opioid related deaths. A study published in the American Public Health Association showed that Colorado was one of outliers in the fight against the epidemic. Not only had Colorado stopped the uptick in opioid related deaths, they saw a dramatic decrease in overdoses. This downward trend of overdoses does not just hold true for Colorado; states where cannabis is legal report 25% fewer opioid-related fatalities. Places that provide people with an alternative to prescription opiates see better outcomes. People suffering from acute or chronic pain now had an easily accessible and safe alternative to these dangerously strong pain medications. Furthermore, when their prescriptions ran out they no longer had to turn to the black market to find ways to ease their pain. If New Jersey were to see similar results this would mean nearly 600 of our friends and neighbors would be saved from overdosing on opioids in the first year alone.

While there are many more positives impacts legalization would have on our state including more funding for our schools, property tax relief, reducing mass incarceration, alleviating the strain on our jails and court systems, I believe that saving our friends and neighbors should be one of the top considerations.  I look forward to working with the Legislature and with Governor Murphy on passing a safe, comprehensive bill to correct this overdue issue and finally legalize cannabis. 

Tim Eustace is a Democratic Assemblyman from the 38th District.

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2 responses to “Curbing the Opioid Crisis with Legalized Cannabis”

  1. Let’s just substitute one drug for another, rather than preventing addiction altogether and helping addicts get into recovery instead of facing jail time or death.

    • It’s not reasonable to compare cannabis with opioids. Opioids are highly addictive, deadly, and a gateway. Meanwhile, cannabis is far less addictive, making it easier to get off of. In the long history of cannabis use among humans, no one has ever died from an overdose. Additionally, cannabis is not a gateway drug. This provides a safe and easier path to recovery. Simplifying the argument to ‘swapping one drug for another’ is a misinformed position.

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