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(Photo:Cory Clark/NurPhoto)

Medical marijuana's potential as an alternative to dangerous, addictive prescription painkillers is earning is a closer look in Washington.

Between the lines: Most states allow medical uses of marijuana, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a hardline stance on marijuana prosecution. That conflict has heightened Congress' attention to the issue, and lawmakers are increasingly on the states' side.

Why it matters: Advocates say medical marijuana has several uses — including, as an alternative to opioid painkillers.

  • One study published in Journal of the American Medical Association found that states with medical marijuana laws had lower opioid overdose death rates.
  • "Opioids are a big, popular topic in statehouses nowadays. It’s just not there at the federal level because... [the administration is] just not willing to acknowledge that cannabis can be part of health care," said Jeremy Unruh, director of regulatory affairs of PharmaCann, a medical marijuana company.

The catch: There are more barriers to medical marijuana than opioid painkillers, even though opioids are at the center of the country's more pressing public health crisis.

  • "To me, it’s illogical to say, ‘We’re perfectly OK with having opioids prescribed, highly addictive opioids, but not look at cannabinoids," said Sen. Thom Tillis. "It just doesn’t make sense to me from a scientific perspective.”

Where it stands: The tension between state laws permitting medical marijuana and federal law classifying it as an illegal narcotic came to a head when Sessions released a memo directing U.S. attorneys to enforce federal law.

Congress has been working on legislation that would protect state law.

  • House and Senate committees have both passed measures designed to stop federal officials from standing in the way of states implementing their own own laws — which has become routine.
  • Sens. Cory Gardner and Elizabeth Warren recently introduced a bill that would essentially make federal law respect states' marijuana laws.
  • "Certainly there’s been a lot of preliminary research that shows it can be an alternative. And that’s one of the areas I’d like to see more research focused," Gardner said.

The problem: Marijuana's federal status as an illegal drug makes research into its medical benefits difficult.

  • There's still a stigma around marijuana, especially for older lawmakers.
  • Gardner says the lawmakers sponsoring his bill aren't "some of the people who have been here for the longest time," adding that, "This is a big educational process. We’re going to have to get more people up to speed on how this is going to work, what it means, what the industry is, what it’s not.”

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
5 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

Mike Allen, author of AM
8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

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