Prescription opioids have been killing Americans by the tens of thousands for several years.  In 2016 alone, more than 60,000 Americans died from overdoses related to opioids, including prescription painkillers like oxycodone, fentanyl, and hydrocodone.  The death toll is expected to breach 500,000 over the next decade if left unchecked.

In response, the Trump Administration has created the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.  At its helm, Trump placed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a notorious anti-marijuana figure who, while campaigning for president, vowed to resume a federal crackdown on marijuana if elected.

Now, it seems Christie may be posturing his Commission to do the next-best (worst) thing: Blame cannabis use for the opioid crisis.

In an email blast recently, Christie stated that “the Commission is dedicated to reviewing all scientific evidence, including recent research out of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse that found past-year marijuana use associated with higher rates of opioid-use disorder and prescription opioid misuse.”

This claim is based on a joint study by the NIDA and Columbia University, which surveyed 43,000 people in 2001-02, and followed up with 34,000 of them several years later.  The survey found that those who used marijuana in the prior year were 2.2 times more likely to meet “DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for prescription opioid use disorder” by the time the survey followed up.

Whether this study amounts to a bad case of “correlation as causation” is probably for scientists and doctors to determine with more research.  Competing papers have argued that legalizing recreational use of marijuana has been associated with a decline in opioid overdose deaths.Famed TV doctor Mehmet Oz – Dr. Oz – has argued that cannabis could very well help stem the opioid-abuse tide.

The fact that more research is needed to determine which side of the debate is correct is precisely the argument that many anti-prohibitionists make to the federal government.  Marijuana is still classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule 1 narcotic, on par with heroin, and considered more dangerous than cocaine or methamphetamine.

Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions was caught making perhaps the most moderate statements of his tenure concerning marijuana, suggesting that “more competition” among medical marijuana growers could be beneficial for the study of marijuana’s risks and benefits.

Hovering over all of this controversy and discussion of marijuana’s benefits?  Big Pharma, and its considerable influence over elected officials.  Trump’s pick for Drug Czar, Rep. Tom Marino, was already forced to step down after “60 Minutes” ran a segment about the pharmaceutical industry’s influence on DEA procedures and lawmaking just before opioids claimed a record number of lives in 2016.  We already know that Big Pharma has a big problem with legal marijuana.

But could Big Pharma also be hedging its bets by getting its hands into the medical marijuana industry while simultaneously pulling the levers of legislative prohibition against cannabis?

The DEA recently announced plans to increase the supply of medical marijuana available for research by the FDA.  While this could pave the way to declassifying cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, could it be a way for Big Pharma to obtain patents on medical marijuana, and shut out every other industry player currently supplying medical marijuana and CBD products?

Regressive “Reefer Madness” politicians, Big Pharma CEOs, and the legal-cannabis industry players seem to be heading for a showdown.