Chelsea Clinton walks back unproven claim about danger of marijuana use

Marijuana consumption has been linked to deaths. But the connection isn’t as direct as she initially suggested.

CREDIT: C-SPAN screengrab
CREDIT: C-SPAN screengrab

During a campaign appearance in Ohio on Saturday, Chelsea Clinton was asked to share her mom’s thoughts about the Drug Enforcement Administration’s recent decision to not reclassify marijuana — a decision that keeps the door closed on federal funding for medical marijuana research.

In response, Chelsea said Hillary “absolutely supports more research” and has no issue with states like Colorado or Oregon going as far as legalizing marijuana for recreational use. She then pivoted to talking about the risks of cannabis use.

“But we also have anecdotal evidence now from Colorado where some of the people who were taking marijuana for [medical] purposes, the coroner believes, after they died, there was drug interactions with other things they were taking,” she said.

A clip featuring a short segment of Clinton’s remarks has gone viral, but here’s the full video of the exchange:

As acknowledged by the National Institutes of Health, it’s nearly impossible for someone to overdose on marijuana. While there are health risks involved with ingesting marijuana in combination with other drugs such as blood thinners or benzodiazepines, ThinkProgress was unable to find any instances of a medical marijuana user dying because of “interactions” between cannabis and other drugs they were taking.

In a statement sent to ThinkProgress, a Chelsea Clinton spokeswoman said Clinton’s comment about marijuana use contributing to deaths was a misstatement.

“While discussing her and her mother’s support for rescheduling marijuana to allow for further study of both its medical benefits and possible interactions with other medications, Chelsea misspoke about marijuana’s interaction with other drugs contributing to specific deaths,” the spokeswoman said.

Recent studies actually indicate that “making marijuana legally available to patients saves lives by reducing their consumption of more dangerous medications,” according to a Forbes report.

That’s not to say, however, that marijuana intoxication doesn’t contribute to deaths. In Colorado alone, a number of recent deaths had “marijuana intoxication” listed as a factor by a coroner. An autopsy found that one 21-year-old who fell to his death last year had both THC and a metabolite of cocaine in his system. But those deaths have been the result of psychotic episodes or accidents that have occurred while a person is under the influence of marijuana, not because of marijuana toxicity in people who have consumed it for medical reasons.

Chelsea Clinton’s comments in Ohio about marijuana were first highlighted by Tom Angell in a Marijuana.com report. While Hillary Clinton has expressed support for doing more than President Obama has done to allow medical marijuana research, Angell argues she should go even further in hopes of winning support from young voters.

“It has been suggested that Clinton’s struggling outreach to millennial voters could be strengthened by endorsing marijuana legalization,” Angell writes. “Young people overwhelmingly support ending cannabis prohibition, and polls show that a sizable chunk are now supporting Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, both of whom have made marijuana law reform centerpieces of their campaigns.”

In the statement sent to ThinkProgress, the Chelsea Clinton spokeswoman made clear that Hillary and her daughter are on the same page in backing reform of restrictive federal marijuana regulations.

“Hillary Clinton has said we should allow states that have reformed their marijuana laws to act as laboratories for our democracy and we should reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance,” she said. “Chelsea agrees and has long recognized and spoken about the need to study marijuana and get the conversation out of politics and into medicine and science where it belongs.”