Former congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke proposed at the Democratic Party’s presidential debate on Tuesday night that opioids could be replaced with cannabis for some patients. O’Rourke’s suggestion came during a discussion about the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis during Tuesday’s face-off between the 12 leading Democratic candidates.
The former U.S. representative from El Paso, Texas said that a veteran he had met might not be addicted to heroin if doctors had access to alternatives to powerful and highly addictive opioids.
“Now imagine that veteran, instead of being prescribed an opioid, had been prescribed marijuana, because we made that legal in America [and] ensured the VA could prescribe it,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke’s comment received immediate support from fellow candidate Andrew Yang, who shouted his approval from across the stage.
“Preach, Beto,” Yang exclaimed.
O’Rourke’s proposal seems to be based on a report from the medical journal JAMA in 2014 that showed a reduction in opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010 in states that had been early adopters of legalized medical marijuana. However, a later Stanford study released earlier this year found that when data through 2017 was included, states with legal medicinal cannabis had a rate of opioid overdose deaths that was 23% higher than other states.
Bernie Denies Burning Before Debate
Despite being also being a proponent of cannabis legalization, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, another candidate on Tuesday night’s debate stage, assured the audience that he wasn’t under the influence at the event. When moderator Erin Burnett attempted to turn the conversation to the candidates’ personal health, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey noted the Sanders is also a supporter of legal cannabis.
“Sen. Sanders is in favor of medical marijuana, I want to make that clear,” said Booker.
Sanders, who had a heart attack only two weeks ago, then asserted that he hadn’t used cannabis recently.
“I’m not on it tonight,” Sanders joked.
Sanders, Yang, Booker, and O’Rourke aren’t the only Democratic candidates for president who back legalizing cannabis at the federal level. Nearly all of the major presidential candidates have expressed their support for legalization with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe Biden, who has said he believes that marijuana should be decriminalized but not legalized.