It turns out Jeff isn’t the only Sessions with a pot vendetta. Pete Sessions is a Republican congressman representing the 32nd Congressional District of Texas in the US House of Representatives. He is also the reason why cannabis bills haven’t gone anywhere in the past two years. Though he and Jeff Sessions are not related, they have both made their disdain for cannabis forcefully clear.
As the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions has immense clout over which bills get sent to the House floor for debate. Since 2016, he has used that power to block every cannabis bill—including those that would protect medical cannabis regulation from federal interference—from moving forward.
Why Pete Sessions is So Anti-Pot
On February 20 in Dallas, Texas, Sessions spoke in front of an audience of healthcare providers at a conference meant to address the opioid epidemic. As reported in the Star-Telegram, his speech implied that cannabis is an underlying cause of the opioid crisis and that legalization efforts are politically motivated.
“If addiction is the problem and we have marketers of addiction that include marijuana — because all you have to do is go to any of the stores in Colorado and they can give you high to low to medium to chocolate — we ought to call for it what it is,” Sessions said. “If it were nicotine, it would have been outlawed; well, it would have been handled differently. But this is a political issue.”
Sessions’ fear of cannabis seems rooted in personal experiences. He told at least two of these stories in his address.
“A dear friend of mine, David Siegel, a wealthy man, one of the wealthiest men in America, had an 18-year-old daughter who was in treatment, I believe for marijuana and maybe cocaine,” he described. “She met a boy there and within three weeks after being out she was dead. She came back and did what she had been doing after being off it.”
Later in the speech, Sessions recounted a story about a Boy Scout he knew whose cannabis use in college purportedly evolved into a heroin addiction.
“Never had smoked marijuana,” Sessions said. “At the end of the first year, he was well into it; the second year, he was into heroin. The drive for addiction with some of our children is insatiable. You just never know when you’re looking at a kid what drives them.”
In a Rules Committee hearing held in mid-January 2018, Sessions made an emotional appeal against the normalization of cannabis use, faulting substances like alcohol and cannabis and their acceptance into the mainstream for the addiction and deaths of children:
“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” he began.
“Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going. There’s massive amounts of evidence that suggests that our young people—many of them that get into heroin, methamphetamines, and a lot of other things begin not only with marijuana but by addiction. I have parents that come to me that are lost. They have a child that they lost right in front of them because they were out with kids that—everybody thinks It’s okay. It’s not okay.”
The Problem with His Views
While difficult to hear, Sessions’ fears are understandable. There is an indisputable epidemic of addiction. It is destroying lives in all socio-economic situations, ages, and races. Cannabis has also been legalized in the majority of the country for either medical or recreational use. There seems to be a correlation.
But correlation is not causation. No matter how easily the pieces might seem to fit together, they don’t necessarily. In fact, research about the causal relationship between the use of soft drugs like alcohol and cannabis and the use of hard drugs like opioids and methamphetamines is inconclusive.
A 2010 study found that variables like the first age of substance abuse and the accessibility of illicit drugs plays a greater role in the eventual use of hard drugs than the initial use of soft drugs. Basically, if you’re a kid surrounded by heroin users, you’re more likely to use heroin than a kid who isn’t surrounded by opioids but who has smoked pot. Though the study did not forgo the conclusion that soft drugs may lead to heavy addiction, it made it clear that the relationship between soft drugs and hard drugs is much more complicated than the “gateway drug” theory would have people believe. A 2013 study expanded on this idea, suggesting that “social capital”—socio-political status—played a significant role in illicit drug use.
Gateway Drug or Substance Abuse Treatment?
A medical research review published in February 2017 indicated that cannabis has the efficacy to treat substance abuse disorders. According to the review, cannabis could be used to substitute opioids and alcohol. Since cannabis is a much safer substance than opioids and alcohol, it protects addicts of those lethal substances from their debilitating side effects.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has even written that “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder,’ substances.” NIDA concludes its statement with this honest evaluation:
“An alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis is that people who are more vulnerable to drug-taking are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chances of trying other drugs. Further research is needed to explore this question.”
The importance of that last part cannot be understated. There needs to be more research before politicians make far-reaching decisions based on personal experiences. Cannabis has been life-saving for millions of people. Of course, it will come with its own set of risks. But it is far more dangerous, though, to remove this plant from the hands of people who have no other option.