Ryan Alexander-Tanner

WE HAVE IT GOOD in Oregon with Measure 91, but the rest of the US still has a ways to go. Plant prohibitionists remain fond of screaming about the dangers of cannabis, and the feds still have it listed as a Schedule I drug, defined by the following characteristics:

• The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.

• The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the US.

• There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or substance under medical supervision.

Cue eye roll.

Fortunately, a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association has opened up some new debate.

The Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania looked at fatal opiate overdoses in states with a medical marijuana program between 1999 and 2010. They found a reduction in opiate-related deaths by nearly 25 percent in the 13 states where cannabis was available for medical use. As time passed, the numbers got even better. After five years with a medical marijuana program in place, states averaged a decrease of nearly 34 percent in drug overdoses, researchers found. The report goes on to say that some people may use cannabis along with opiates, which lowers both their opiate use and potential for fatally overdosing.

The (not fun) facts about opiates? About 60 percent of fatal overdoses occur in people who have a legitimate prescription, and opiate prescriptions written for non-cancer patients have nearly doubled in the past decade.

Pain pills do work for most people; for some, they work too well. If you think you don't have someone in your circle who has been affected by pain pill misuse, you are wrong. It's not as visible as meth, heroin, or cocaine abuse, but the body count shows it has an impact in every socioeconomic circle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing that deaths from prescription opiate overdose almost tripled between 1999 and 2012.

But of course, we must be cautious about cannabis, because the number of deaths from its use has skyrocketed, from zero to... well, zero. We know this because researchers have determined the drug's LD50 rating. That term refers to the amount of any drug that serves as a lethal dose in 50 percent of test animals.

In 1988, a Drug Enforcement Administration judge wrote in a ruling: "In [layman's] terms this means that in order to induce death, a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette.... A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal response." I've smoked tough some days, but if I smoked 100 pounds per minute for 15 minutes, I would welcome the warm embrace of death.

We're on the right path, but we're not there yet. Here's hoping that one day every citizen in pain, whether in Oregon or not, will have access to something that takes away their pain without ending their life.