The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a U.S. federal research institute focused on “[advancing] science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction … to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health. ” Though it admits “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances,” it still describes marijuana as a gateway drug.
While discussing how heroin abuse and how individuals often develop an addiction, Lynch argued:
“[I]ndividuals [start out] with a prescription drug problem, and then because they need more and more, they turn to heroin. It isn’t so much that marijuana is the step right before using prescription drugs or opioids — it is true that if you tend to experiment with a lot of things in life, you may be inclined to experiment with drugs, as well. But it’s not like we’re seeing that marijuana as a specific gateway.”
Attorney General Lynch added that instead of trafficking rings, what “introduce[s] a person to opioids … [is] the household medicine cabinet.”
The event she attended was part of the Prescription Opioid Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, a campaign designed by the White House that includes “250 different events highlighting the importance of prevention, enforcement, and treatment.” As expected, the campaign focused on advertising the official approach to drug abuse, encouraging the public to support the Obama administration’s approach to the opioid crisis.
In early August, the Obama administration said no to a bid urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reconsider how marijuana is classified under federal drug control laws. Currently, the DEA lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, the pivot drug of the opioid epidemic. But as the Attorney General’s comments demonstrate, the federal government fails to take its own classification methodology seriously, choosing instead to contend that prescription drug abuse is a much bigger issue. Per its federal classification, marijuana should be seen as a threat as dangerous as heroin, and yet Lynch appears to contend the abuse of legal drugs is keeping federal agents busy — not the enforcement of her agency’s own rules.