The federal government is prepared to help fund states’ efforts to combat opioid addiction—but medical marijuana won’t be a part of it.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, said that it is barring money from several grant programs to support opioid addiction treatment to be used on medical cannabis.
“We felt that it was time to make it clear we did not want individuals receiving funds for treatment services to be exposed to marijuana and somehow given the impression that it’s a treatment,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, the assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, as quoted by the Associated Press.
The Associated Press reported that federal officials held calls with state leaders last week to detail the rules, which apply to three different grant programs offered to states in support of opioid and alcohol abuse treatment. Under the restrictions, the grant money cannot be used to purchase marijuana or to authorize cannabis treatment.
The restrictions do not, however, apply to grants from other federal agencies for research on medical marijuana, according to the Associated Press.
Treating Addiction With Cannabis
The decision is the latest reminder of the state and federal divide when it comes to marijuana policy.
Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 states, while more than a dozen states and cities have also legalized pot for recreational use. But under the federal Controlled Substance Act, marijuana is listed as a schedule one drug, the same legal status as heroin.
McCance-Katz said there “zero evidence” of marijuana’s viability as a medical treatment.
Plenty of researchers disagree, and in many of the states where medical cannabis is legal, opioid abuse is a qualifying condition to receive a cannabis prescription. The denial of the grant money also comes at a time when marijuana is increasingly seen as a legitimate alternative to opioid prescription painkillers.
A new law that took effect this year in Colorado permits doctors in the state to legally recommend medical cannabis for patients who might otherwise get prescribed opioids.
The law opens the door for patients to seek medical marijuana for all conditions in which they might be dealt an opioid prescription, representing a major expansion for the treatment in the state. Previously under Colorado’s medical marijuana law, patients could receive a cannabis prescription for the following qualifying debilitating medical conditions: cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, cachexia, persistent muscle spasms, seizures, severe nausea, and severe pain.
Colorado became the third state to permit doctors to do that, joining Illinois and New York as the other two with similar laws.