Fact-Checking Jeff Sessions on Marijuana and Opioids

As he’s always wont to do, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions riled medical marijuana advocates last week by suggesting that marijuana is partly responsible for the country’s opioid epidemic. The controversial remarks came during a speaking engagement at the Heritage Foundation before the Reagan Alumni Association on Tuesday. (A full transcript of his remarks is available here.) 

Sessions began by stating that opiates are being overprescribed in America today.

“The DEA said that a huge percentage of the heroin addiction starts with prescription…”

So far, so good.

Then he went all Jeff Sessions.

“…we think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs too, but we’ll see.”

Marijuana advocates have long called the gateway theory a trope that isn’t backed up by actual research. While it is true that marijuana use and hard drug use share a positive correlation, it may be simply that — a correlation.

“Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana — usually before they are of legal age,” explained the researchers behind a 1999 study conducted by the Institute of Medicine. 

In 2002, RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center reached similar findings

In fact, contrary to Sessions’ statements, there is some preliminary research to suggest that marijuana could be a safer alternative for chronic pain patients who are typically prescribed opioids. But the research on that is still young.