Dear Pot Lawyer,

Jeff Sessions says we’re in the midst of a “historic drug epidemic.” Is he right?

Yes, but only accidentally. When Sessions talks about “drugs,” he’s talking about federally banned substances, like cocaine, LSD, and cannabis. We know this because Sessions cited the “historic drug epidemic” in a recent failed effort to drum up cash from Congress to enforce the Controlled Substance Act (including going after medical cannabis distributors). If your attorney general really cared about the drug epidemic, though, he’d be doing what another attorney named Nick Kahl is doing, right here in Portland: suing the pants off of Big Pharma and everyone else involved in pushing prescription opioids for the last few decades.

Full disclosure: I have never met Nick Kahl, but from what I can see online, I like him because: (1) He grew up in East Portland and graduated from David Douglas High School; (2) he’s wearing a hoodie and holding a skateboard on his law firm website; and (3) he represents Multnomah County in a $250 million lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and doctors. The complaint is well drafted, and if you care about your community, wish Nick and the county luck.

The statistics related to opioid abuse in America are brutal. Opioids are the most prescribed class of substances, and they generated $11 billion in revenue for drug companies in 2014 alone. The year prior, 254 million prescriptions for opioids were filled in this country—enough to medicate all of us around the clock for a year. And today, some two million Americans either abuse or depend upon opioids. Probably the worst statistic of all, though, is this: According to the Centers for Disease Control, the opioid crisis kills 146 Americans daily.

Somehow Jeff Sessions doesn’t factor in opioids when he considers the “historic drug epidemic.” He seems more concerned with cannabis, a substance that, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has never caused an overdose. To be clear, the DEA is no friend of cannabis, and never has been. But facts are stubborn things.

According to its website, the mission of Sessions’ Department of Justice (DOJ) is to “ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide leadership in preventing and controlling crime; [and] to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior.” That’s what Multnomah County is doing in its public-interest lawsuit. Jeff Sessions could do something similar and continue the DOJ tradition of prosecuting bad public health actors, as it did with Big Tobacco. But Sessions seems cool with opioids.

The pharmaceutical companies and doctors who fuel the opioid epidemic know what they’re doing, and they cause colossal public harm. As for medical cannabis promoters, studies show that states with these programs see a decrease in opioid dependence and deaths. Hopefully, these trends continue. It’s a shame Sessions doesn’t take an interest in the same historic drug epidemic as the rest of us.

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