While Trump continues to bluster and make his usual empty “promises” and legislators on Capitol Hill have nothing better to offer than “thoughts and prayers,” states that have made medical cannabis available to their residents are seeing significant reductions in rates of opioid addiction. At the same time, dire predictions about increased marijuana use by young people and growing criminal activity have failed to materialize. The effects have been quite the opposite: according to a piece published in the Journal of Urban Economics last year, not only were there reductions in crime in communities with marijuana dispensaries. The authors found that “…an open dispensary provides over $30,000 per year in social benefit in terms of larcenies prevented.” Nor have there been any significant changes in the number of work-related accidents and traffic mishaps; in fact, since marijuana legalization, Colorado actually saw a decrease in the number of D.U.I.-related accidents.

What is most significant in light of the nation’s opioid addiction crisis is that states in which marijuana has been legalized in one form or another have seen addiction and abuse rates plummet. For example, in Minnesota, 63 percent of patients who had been taking prescription opiates were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months,” according to a report from the state Department of Health. Similar figures have been reported in Michigan, while southwestern and New England states enjoyed even better results.

This information has been backed up by recent studies published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine. One of the studies concluded that “Cannabis can decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids.” Another study involving more than 1200 cancer patients found a 50 percent reduction in the use of opioid painkillers among those treated with cannabis.

More and more evidence continues to establish the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis as an alternative to addictive, life-destroying prescription opioids. Despite this, the current Federal Administration seems determined to do everything in its power to roll back the tide and maintain the status quo, preserving marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I narcotic.


There is no simple answer to this question, but last month, Rolling Stone published a piece indicating that the federal government has a financial incentive in keeping cannabis illegal. The article reports that according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the U.S. Treasury could collect as much as $5 billion over the next 9 years by keeping pot on the list of Controlled Substances. This is due to a little-known provision in the tax code that makes people whose business is selling illegal narcotics ineligible for deductions or tax credits. The intention behind this provision was to prevent drug lords from using the costs of packaging and transporting their illicit wares as a tax write-off. However, now that more than half of the states have legalized some form of marijuana, it has created a conundrum – as well as major headaches for honest small businesspeople attempting to run dispensaries.

During discussions of the egregious and hugely-unpopular Trump tax bill this past December, there was some discussion of adding an amendment that would have allowed marijuana businesses in states where voters have decided to legalize cannabis to be taxed like any other legitimate company. Not surprisingly, that amendment never made it to the floor.

It seems that at some point, the federal government will have to decide whether it wants to give up approximately $500 million a year in tax revenues from legitimate pot dealers who sell a product that is increasingly recognized as a helpful substance to those struggling with opioid addiction – or let the nation continue to spend over one thousand times that much every year in terms of health care and treatment programs, lost productivity and lives destroyed by prescription opioids.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.