(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

TikTok caught in a U.S.-China vise

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok, the short-video platform popular among teens for sharing funny moments and dance moves, is getting pulled into the deadly serious geopolitical conflict between China and the U.S.

The big picture: More than any other Chinese-owned app, TikTok has found success outside of its homeland. But as the U.S. sounds security alarms and China turns the legal screws on Hong Kong, the company is fighting to prove that it's not beholden to Beijing — and to forestall a threatened ban by the Trump administration.

1 hour ago - Sports

College sports stare down a coronavirus-driven disaster in the fall

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Wednesday was the worst day in college sports since March 12, when the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down.

Driving the news: The Ivy League announced that it will cancel all fall sports and will not consider resuming sports until Jan. 1, 2021 — and Stanford is permanently cutting 11 of its 36 varsity sports to help offset a projected $70 million, pandemic-fueled deficit.

1.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week

Data: U.S. Employment and Training Administration via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Another 1.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Why it matters: The number of new unemployment applications has fallen steadily since peaking in March, but the number is still historically higher than before the pandemic hit. Economists are watching the weekly gauge for any sign that spiking unemployment may come alongside the sharp uptick in coronavirus cases around the country.