Citing studies showing the opiate epidemic is less severe in states where marijuana is legal, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants the feds to relax rules on marijuana research.
While recreational marijuana is legal in four states and the District of Columbia and medical marijuana is legal in 23 states, the drug remains illegal under federal laws, making it difficult for researchers to study its effects and potential uses, The Guardian notes. Researchers who want to study the drug need a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.
But there are indications that marijuana can be a useful, non-addictive alternative to opiates as a pain medicine.
In Massachusetts, hundreds of people who are addicted to opiates are being treated with medical marijuana, The Guardian reports. And while states across the country are reporting historically high numbers of heroin and prescription painkiller overdose deaths, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found there are fewer opioid overdose deaths in states where medical marijuana is legal.
In a letter to the Centers for Disease Control, Warren asked officials “to explore every opportunity and tool available to work with states and other federal agencies on ways to tackle the opioid epidemic and collect information about alternative pain relief options.”
For Warren, it's a shift in view since she was opposed to legalization in 2012. When asked why she changed her mind, Warren told the Boston Globe, "I think we've learned more ...We ought to explore it and see what the consequences of marijuana use are.
The painkiller and heroin epidemic has become a talking point among presidential candidates, in addition to the spike in overdose deaths. In 2013, opiate overdoses surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of "injury death" among people between 25 and 64, and an average of 44 Americans die from overdoses every day, according to the CDC.
With attitudes toward marijuana becoming increasingly relaxed, and politicians worried about opiates, Warren said she believes the time is right to approve marijuana research.
“A couple of states have legalized marijuana for recreational use," Warren said. "Frankly, I think we ought to be learning what we can from those states."