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View from Washington: Medical pot predicament

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Pass the pot. Actually, don’t.

Medical marijuana is now allowed by 28 states and the District of Columbia, with workers compensation reimbursement for medical marijuana already being documented in six states as physicians and others seek to wean injured workers off of dangerous opioids.

While acknowledging that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the Obama administration essentially looked the other way, choosing to focus its limited enforcement resources on other issues.

Is President Donald Trump a friend or foe to the ganja movement? He has given mixed signals on marijuana use, receiving a C+ grade from the Marijuana Policy Project, which noted that he previously favored legalizing all drugs, but more recently opposed legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use. However, he has also supported legal access to medical marijuana and has said he believes states should set their own marijuana policies, according to the Washington-based organization.

But as we’ve seen already, Trump cabinet nominees are not always on the same page as the president.

During the confirmation hearings of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., President Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, he was asked about federalism as it relates to marijuana laws passed at the state level.

“One obvious concern is that Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state an illegal act,” Sen. Sessions said. “If that is not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change it. It’s not the attorney general’s job to decide which laws to enforce. We should enforce the laws as effectively as we are able.”

It seems clear that Sen. Sessions is no fan of state efforts to permit marijuana usage, and the U.S. Department of Justice could take action in states that have enacted laws to allow the use of medical or recreational marijuana. Would he lobby President Trump to allow his department to go after those using marijuana with the blessing of their individual states? Would he ask for permission to pursue recreational users, but leave medical marijuana users alone?

Robert Capecchi, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of federal policies, expressed cautious optimism that President Trump will stick to his states’ rights platform and continue the current policy of not interfering with individuals and entities following state marijuana laws.

But employers and their workers comp insurers are caught in the middle of this feds vs. states battle. Do they take the chance of following state laws, knowing that they could be caught in the crossfire if the feds start enforcing federal marijuana law? Perhaps they could even enlist the federal government as an ally in pushing back against state-level bills or court decisions ordering them to cover medical marijuana for injured workers.

Given the human and economic toll of the opioid epidemic, maybe they should instead be encouraging Congress and the president to legalize marijuana at the federal level or at least follow the Obama administration’s lead. In the war on opioid addiction, a hands-off-of-weed federal policy could come in handy.