Could Legalizing All Drugs Solve America’s Opioid Epidemic?

Drug policy in the U.S. is at a crossroads. On one hand, at least 22 states have decriminalized recreational marijuana, eight of which have gone a step further by legalizing it altogether. At least 29 states permit medical marijuana for qualifying patients. Several additional states look poised to consider legalization, decriminalization, or medicalization in 2018. At the federal level, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has introduced a bill to end the national prohibition of marijuana. U.S. policy toward marijuana, at least, is on a path toward liberalization—if not outright legalization.

On the other hand, the opioid epidemic creates pressure in the other direction. Many proposals for taming the epidemic involve further constraining access (for example, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines restricting prescriptions or state laws limiting access to painkillers). In addition, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems intent on reversing marijuana liberalizations, calling marijuana “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

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