Warren eyes legal pot retail sales as a way to curb opiate abuse

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/17/warren-eyes-legal-pot-retail-sales-as-a-way-to-curb-opiate-abuse/

WASHINGTON – Elizabeth Warren tentatively weighed in on the debate over legalizing marijuana, asking the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the effects of legal access to pot on the rate of deaths from heroin and opioid drug overdoses.

The Bay State’s senior U.S. Senator cited the “opioid epidemic that only continues to grow at an alarming pace.”

“I continue to hear stories from constituents across Massachusetts affected by this crisis – parents fighting for their kids, doctors fighting for their patients, and communities fighting for each other,” the Cambridge Democrat said in the letter, dated Feb. 8. She pointed out that more than 1,100 overdose deaths were reported in the Bay State in 2014, up 65 percent from 2012 and the most ever recorded in the state.

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Warren went on to ask the CDC, a major public health agency, to study “alternative pain relief options” as a way to reduce reliance on synthetic opiates like Vicodin that can be addictive. She asked the agency to work with the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration to study, among other things, “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”

The inquiry came as debate heats up over legalizing retail sales of pot to adults and more medical marijuana dispensaries open in the state, after medical use became legal in 2013. A measure working its way toward the November ballot would ask voters whether marijuana products should be treated like alcohol, with retail sales permitted to adults. Several states, including Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational sales even though cannabis remains an illegal drug under federal law.

Law enforcement leaders often oppose legalization efforts, pointing to pot as a “gateway drug” that can lead users to harder substances that are addictive, including methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey staked out her opposition to the proposed ballot measure in an interview with the Patriot Ledger newspaper in Quincy on Tuesday. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, opposes legalization for recreational use, Lizzy Guyton, his spokeswoman, told the State House News Service last week.

In Colorado, since retail recreational sales began in 2014, more adults and young people use the drug and there’s been a rise in traffic fatalities and hospitalizations tied to pot, Jim Gerhardt, vice president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, told lawmakers last week, State House News reported. He warned State House lawmakers that the ballot initiative in Massachusetts mirrors the one that passed in the Rocky Mountain state in 2012.