First Lady Nancy Reagan waves to the crowd attending a “Just Say No” rally at the Kaiser Arena, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 1985, Oakland, Calif. According to the Tuscaloosa News editorial board, '"Just Say No" preceded one of the darkest periods in our nation's history with regard to drug abuse. ' (Paul Sakuma, Associated Press)

Jeff Sessions’ fellow Alabamans think his approach to marijuana, opioids “couldn’t be more wrong”

Via The Associated Press. The following editorial was published in the Tuscaloosa News, March 19:

Our nation is in the grips of an opioid epidemic unlike anything we’ve seen before. Just a few short years ago, heroin was thought to be a drug of past decades. Now, people are overdosing and dying in record numbers.

Substance abuse and the far-reaching impact it has on our nation, our communities and our families is nothing new in the American experience. It has been around since the dawn of our nation. Social experiments in our efforts to address the problem have usually centered on strong government control, increasingly harsh criminal penalties for those who dare stray against the strong arm of the law, and prohibition.

Different approaches, from prohibition and incarceration to less punitive measures that focus on treatment instead of criminality, have been taken over the years to greater or lesser extremes. Much of that is up for debate and should be debated.

But there are three points that new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made about the problem of substance abuse that show he is incredibly out of touch. The former U.S. senator from Alabama was speaking in Richmond, Va., when he said that medical marijuana is overhyped. He then said (Cannabist ed: in prepared remarks) marijuana is “only slightly less awful than heroin.” He also said the answer to our nation’s drug problems is a return to the 1980s abstinence programs, when our government urged people to “Just Say No” to drug use.

He couldn’t be any more wrong on all points.

Regardless of your opinion on whether marijuana is good or bad, it is simply not factually correct to say that recent discoveries on how it can legitimately help a wide range of medical issues are anything less than significant.

To say marijuana is slightly less bad than heroin is absolutely bizarre. According to the Centers for Disease Control, national death rates attributed to heroin overdoses have increased by greater than 50 percent since 2010. “The rapid rise in heroin overdose deaths follows nearly 2 decades of increasing drug overdose deaths in the United States primarily driven by” prescription opioid pain relievers, according to a CDC report from 2014. There has never been an overdose death attributed to marijuana.

To compare the two hearkens back to the anti-marijuana propaganda that was built upon lies. When Sessions uses that same tired rhetoric, it makes people, particularly young people, distrust anything the government says about the dangers of particular drugs.

Meanwhile, “Just Say No” preceded one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history with regard to drug abuse. Without a doubt, abstinence efforts were massive failures that did little to nothing to curb drug abuse but did much to lead to mass incarceration.

We’re faced with a serious problem. People are dying in record numbers because of heroin and abuse of legal prescription opioid medications. Sessions’ answer is to double down on misinformation and policies that have failed for decades.

Information from the Tuscaloosa News