Fighting Opiate Abuse
Arizona Cannabis Advocates Unite to “Free the Weed”
In Phoenix on January 9, more than a hundred advocates for marijuana use joined forces on the opening day of the state’s legislative session to lobby for cannabis and against the opioid epidemic.
Forming a human sign on the state capitol grounds that read “Stop the Opioid Epidemic,” some advocates politely posed for photos while others shouted slogans, such as “Opiates Kill” and “Free the Weed.”
“Arizona lost, We could have saved lives from this opiate epidemic. But Arizona law says we have another chance.”
The event was organized by Kathy Inman, Executive Director of MomForce Arizona and a decade-long veteran of the marijuana wars in Arizona. “We are here to take a stand for cannabis,” Inman said, “and to take a stand against the opiate epidemic.”
In November, Arizona voters struck down Proposition 205, an initiative that would have legalized recreational pot. Despite that loss, advocates like Inman remain undaunted. “Arizona lost,” she said. “We could have saved lives from this opiate epidemic. But Arizona law says we have another chance.” Inman and others cannabis supporters have pledged to continue to fight and engage Arizona’s legislators. Advocates are already developing language that would again be put before the voters.
This day, however, the focus was on opiate abuse. Nationally, opiate addiction remains a serious health threat. According to a PBS Frontline report that aired February 23, 2016, opioids kill more than 27,000 people each year in the United States. While that statistic includes deaths related to heroin overdose, deaths from prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl, have spiked. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that the misuse of prescription pain relievers caused 20,101 deaths in 2015.
Arizona is front and center in this epidemic. The Arizona Department of Health reports an average of more than one death a day in Arizona (372 in 2015) due to prescription opiate overdose. Advocates continue to cite cannabis as a reasonable and safe pain-relieving alternative to prescription opiates. “The time has come to legalize cannabis in Arizona,” said Michelle Westenfield, a Mesa resident. “Free the weed.“