Sue ’em! (USA Edition)

According to the USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • From 1999 to 2017, more than 702,000 people have died from a drug overdose
  • in 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States.
  • Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for adults under 55 — more deadly than automobile accidents.
  • Drug overdose deaths continue to increase in the United States.
  • The vast majority of overdose deaths were from opiods.

You would think that the US government, and the governments of its respective states, would be willing to try just about anything to stop this plague, wouldn’t you?

Yet they won’t, because the solution involves legalizing cannabis and making it easy to get — which the USA’s anti-drug establishment adamantly opposes (despite the USA’s National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine having concluded in 2017 that there was no scientific evidence of anyone, anywhere, ever dying of a cannabis overdose).

The death-rate-reducing power of cannabis was proposed in 2014 by Bachhuber et al’s “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” which concluded:

Although the present study provides evidence that medical cannabis laws are associated with reductions in opioid analgesic overdose mortality on a population level, proposed mechanisms for this association are speculative and rely on indirect evidence. Further rigorous evaluation of medical cannabis policies, including provisions that vary among states, is required before their wide adoption can be recommended. If the relationship between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality is substantiated in further work, enactment of laws to allow for use of medical cannabis may be advocated as part of a comprehensive package of policies to reduce the population risk of opioid analgesics.”

That “further rigorous evaluation” was begun immediately, and its results were published in early 2018 as the scientific paper “Do medical marijuana laws reduce addictions and deaths related to pain killers?” by Powell, Pacula, & Jacobson, in the Journal of Health Economics 58 (2018) 29–42. It firmly established that easy access to legal cannabis reduced the overdose death rate by 25-40%.

As the authors wrote:

Using data from just the early period of these laws 1999–2010, dispensaries reduce opioid mortality rates by about 40%, above and beyond the reduction from marijuana laws alone. The total effect is estimated to be even larger. When we consider the full time period (1999–2013), the estimates imply that dispensaries reduce opioid mortality rates by about 20% while the main effect of having a law is relatively small in magnitude, implying declines of about 5%, and not statistically distinguishable from zero. Importantly, together – a marijuana law with a legal, operational dispensary provision – the estimates imply a statistically significant (at the 5% level) decline in overdose death rates of about 25%.”

(Powell 2018)

The effect of “easily accessible” cannabis on overdose death rates is shown clearly in the charts below, which shows the national death rate rise far above Colorado’s and Oregon’s after 2014, when access to “adult use” cannabis (not just “medical”) was implemented. (Adult-use cannabis laws make cannabis accessible to any adult, which is the ultimate in “easy access.”)

You would expect that, faced with such a demonstrably-effective tool in saving tens of thousands of lives each year, politicians and bureaucrats would have rushed — rushed! — to implement laws making cannabis easily accessible.

They have not.

To motivate these politicians and bureaucrats to take action based on these findings, I propose that:

  • Every politician and bureaucrat involved in drug policy, law, and regulation should have known about the findings of Powell 2018, and should have enacted policies, laws, and regulations to make cannabis easily accessible;
  • The failure of these politicians and bureaucrats to take these actions thereafter is criminally negligent;
  • Every American resident who died of an opiate overdose after the publication of Powell 2018 is the victim of a wrongful death brought about by said criminally negligent politicians and bureaucrats;
  • A class action lawsuit should be filed in US federal court and in every state of the Union in which cannabis is not “readily accessible,” by the survivors of those who have died of opioid overdoses, suing said politicians and bureaucrats for criminal negligence in the wrongful death of the deceased.

It is widely believed that one cannot sure politicians and bureaucrats, but this is not true. They have sovereign immunity to some kinds of lawsuits, but at least in the United States and Australia (of which I am a dual citizen) they may not as immune as is widely thought (see, for example, Brandon v Holt 1985).

The primary goal of such a lawsuit would not necessarily be the awarding of cash damages to the families of the overdose victims (although that would be nice!). The primary goal would be mandatory injunctive relief, that is, compelling the politicians and bureaucrats to legalize cannabis and make it easily accessible.

I’m not a lawyer. If you know any lawyers who are active in US or Australian cannabis legalization, please do not hesitate to bring this blog post to their attention… so we can line up these politicians and bureaucrats and sue ’em!