Over 90 per day.
That's how many Americans died of opioid overdose in 2015 alone... and the death toll continues to rise, to the tune of a 439 percent increase in overdose deaths since 1999. Each year, opioids kill more people than car accidents and fatal shootings, contributing to drug overdoses having become the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Given these statistics, it's easy to see why so many describe the situation as an epidemic that poses a serious public health threat. But it's not quite as easy to see why Attorney General Jeff Sessions' response is to attack... medical marijuana?
What the Errl is He Thinking?
Flying in the face of multiple studies indicating that medical cannabis use contributes to a 64 percent lower rate of opioid use and a 25 percent decrease in death from opioid overdose, Sessions has declared a brand-spanking new war on drugs with a focus on pot. Add in the Trump administration's proposal to gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy's budget by 95 percent and slash Medicaid (which funds 1/3 of opiate treatment programs), and Sessions' determination to focus scarce resources on legal marijuana use seems even more incomprehensible.
But is it really a surprise?
A deeper look into the motivations behind Sessions' attempts to undo the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment — which, since 2014, has prohibited the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using funds to prevent states from implementing their own marijuana use, distribution, cultivation and possession laws — reveals some interesting insights into the A.G.'s possible motivations. Let's put the pieces together.
Over the past few decades, the "War on Drugs" has put millions of low-level drug offenders behind bars, thanks to mandatory sentencing laws. This rise in drug offense convictions has resulted in a 790 percent increase in incarcerated populations since 1980, and the private prison population has grown exponentially since Corrections Corp became the world’s first private prison company in 1983. Between 1990 and 2009, the number of people incarcerated in private prisons increased by 1600 percent. Of the almost 1.5 million arrested for drug law violations in 2015, 43 percent were for marijuana. That translates to about 8% of the total US prison population, of which 1 in 5 are imprisoned for a drug offense.
In other words, private prisons are big business, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue each year... and marijuana arrests help keep those prisons full and those profits up. In 2016, President Obama drew national attention to the issue with his announcement that the federal government would phase out its use of private prisons, following a 2015 DOJ report that found private prisons had more safety and security problems than federally run prisons. In 2017, Sessions reversed Obama's plan, just a few months before announcing his crackdown on legal marijuana use.
Follow the Money
Though Session's stances on both marijuana and private prisons may be completely unrelated, it's easy to connect the dots between his desire for more Draconian drug laws that lead to more arrests, more incarcerations, and more profits for the private prison industry. Interestingly enough, stock prices for the two largest private prison corporations, Core Civic and the Geo Group — both very generous contributors to the Trump campaign — skyrocketed after November 8, 2016.
Fortunately, legalized marijuana is extremely popular. Most states have at least some form of legalized weed, and a majority of Americans support full legalization. Sessions, a man who described marijuana as "only slightly less awful than heroin" and noted that the KKK didn't bother him until he found out they smoked marijuana, faces an uphill battle in his attempts to override state laws with opposition likely to arise from the American public, the booming cannabis industry, and even some members of Congress.
In June, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would allow state law to supersede federal marijuana law. Given Sessions' past support for state's rights, it'll be interesting to watch this issue play out. Either way, Sessions to attempt to reduce citizen's legal access to cannabis will undoubtedly be met with opposition from many sides.
Dan Ogden is a 20+ year veteran of the executive search industry, having covered operations, regulatory and consulting verticals within capital markets as well as data science, data analytics and, more recently, the cannabis industry within search firm and internal corporate HR leadership roles. Dan is Principal of the practice at Delta 9, the Western Hemisphere's' only dedicated cannabis industry executive search firm. To find out how Delta 9's proprietary, trademarked end-to-end recruiting methodology can help you find the key executives to make your company thrive and grow in the cannabis industry, shoot us an email, or give us a ring at 212.390.8190.