America's attitude toward marijuana legalization has changed drastically since the turn of the century, thanks in part to an increasing number of people who see it for its medical benefits. Now, many states want to legalize the so-called "gateway drug" to fight opioid abuse.
Recent research has shown a correlation between the strength of state marijuana laws and opioid abuse. States with wider access to medical marijuana have fatal opioid overdose rates almost 25 percent lower than states with no legal access. In Colorado, the number of opioid abuse-related hospitalizations fell 23 percent after legalization.
Now, more states are using this correlation to push for legalization themselves. Most recently, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo commissioned a report that found the benefits of statewide legalization would outweigh the drawbacks — including a reduction of opioids for narcotic use.
It's a bit early to tell just how strong this correlation is, but studies show marijuana legalization can benefit groups prone to addiction. For instance, Medicare recipients living in states with easy marijuana access saw 1.8 million fewer opioid pills dispensed per day. Research also shows Medicaid recipients would likely be prescribed more marijuana and fewer opioids.
For now, it appears this method of fighting addiction will stay at the state level. The federal government has loosened its restrictions on marijuana as a medicine and research tool, but not by much. The FDA only approved its first cannabis-derived drug in June.