For now, the United States is still (mostly) a free country, and people are (within limits) allowed to speak their minds.

For example: Vice President Mike Pence is free to believe that evolution may not be a real thing and the world was in fact created by God in a shade under seven daysas appears to be the case, based on his own statements—just as graduates of the University of Notre Dame are free to take a long walk rather than listen to the prattle of a creationist who is responsible for Indiana schools using textbooks that declare humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together.

In a somewhat similar way, mainstream Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—the latter of whom is the president’s point man on solving the county’s opiate crisis—are “free” to say, publicly, that marijuana won’t do anything to help stop the flood of overdoses, a line also uttered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February.

But there’s a major difference.

Nobody is dying because Mike Pence thinks angels are real and cavemen rode velociraptors to work or whatever such nonsense he chooses to believe against all empirical evidence to the contrary. (People are dying and will continue to die because Pence supports cutting off vital healthcare for religious reasons, but that’s another story.)

People are dying, and will continue to die, because Kasich, Christie, Sessions and anyone else with a similar “opinion” appear to be wrong.

No less an authority than the federal government says so.

Deaths due to drug overdoses have skyrocketed to more than 50,000 a year in the United States. The vast majority of these deaths are caused by opiate overdoses.

In the meantime, multiple academic studies and learned organizations have acknowledged that cannabis is useful in treating chronic pain—one of the most common afflictions in America and one of the key ailments for which opiates are most commonly prescribed.

Sometime over the past month, the National Institute on Drug Abuse updated its webpage on marijuana to reflect the results of two recent studies the agency funded. As MassRoots’s Tom Angell first noticed earlier this month, the agency now declares that “medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain.”

This in itself is not new—not to science, and not to NIDA.

Almost a year prior, the health agency had published, on its own website, the clear results from one of the studies. As analysts with the RAND Corporation found, states with legal marijuana dispensaries “had lower opioid-overdose mortality rates and fewer admissions to treatment for opioid addiction than they would have had without the dispensaries.”

In any event, “the federal government knows that the easier it is for people to access legal marijuana, the less likely they will rely on potentially deadly opiate-based drugs,” Angell reported.

It should be noted that Ohio has one of the nation’s highest overdose rates and does not yet have legal marijuana dispensaries, though the state has legalized medical marijuana and is slowly but surely moving toward a legal cannabis marketplace.

Kasich’s people should hope—and pray, if they want to reach Pence—that their governor does not follow the example set by Christie.

Christie takes deep pride in doing everything he could to block greater access to cannabis in New Jersey during his more than seven years in office, a period of time in which the state saw the biggest increase in overdose deaths in the nation.

Christie has yet to unveil his grand plan for addressing the opiate overdose crisis.

If he were to consult the Trump administration’s own people, he’d know that cannabis, at the very least, deserves a long and thoughtful look.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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