This past week, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke about the nation’s heroin and opioid epidemic at a town hall meeting in Kentucky. The conversation eventually steered toward talking about cannabis. And when it did, Lynch had some surprising things to say. One of the most interesting was her statement that marijuana is not a gateway drug. She stated that prescription opioids are much more to blame for the current heroin epidemic than cannabis.
Lynch’s comments came at a town hall meeting in Richmond, Kentucky. The event was part of what the White House is calling National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.
Lynch began her remarks by stressing that prescription opioids are what’s leading to the resurgence of heroin use in Kentucky and the rest of the U.S. During the post-talk question and answer session, the conversation steered itself toward cannabis.
An audience member asked her if she thinks recreational marijuana could be a gateway drug to more serious drugs like heroin. Here’s how Lynch responded:
“When we talk about heroin addiction we usually . . . are talking about individuals who start out with a prescription drug problem,” she said. “And then because they need more and more they turn to heroin.”
“It isn’t so much that marijuana is the step right before. It’s not like we’re seeing that marijuana is a specific gateway.”
Why U.S. Attorney General’s Comments Are Important
Lynch’s answer to that question is important for a couple of reasons. First, she kept the focus squarely on the dangers of highly addictive prescription opioids. She doubled down on her position when she said that “using prescription drugs or opioids” are things that lead to heroin addiction, not cannabis use.
And second, her comments help dismantle a go-to argument of the anti-cannabis community. We’ve probably all heard the classic myth that marijuana is dangerous because it’s a gateway drug that will lead people on to more serious, more harmful, harder drugs. This idea was a staple of the D.A.R.E. program.
But as Lynch pointed out, that argument isn’t all that valid. There are tons of other drugs—many of which are legal—that are much more dangerous “gateways” than marijuana.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also supports that idea. The agency explains on its website that “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”
All of this information is helping to tear down the outdated, misguided myth that marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug. And sifting out truth from myth is important this fall, as cannabis legalization initiatives are going up for a vote in five states.