TV Stations Pulled Anti-Legalization Ads Ahead Of Midterm Marijuana Votes, Advocates Say

TV Stations Pulled Anti-Legalization Ads Ahead Of Midterm Marijuana Votes, Advocates Say

In the run-up to Election Day, at least two Michigan television stations pulled political ads promoting false claims about the state’s ultimately successful marijuana legalization measure, cannabis reform advocates told Marijuana Moment.

The ads, paid for by prohibitionist committee Healthy and Productive Michigan (HAPM), attempted to stoke fears about legalization, incorrectly claiming that the initiative would allow for “unlimited potency” cannabis products.

“Legalized marijuana allows ice creams, cookies and candies with unlimited potency, making its way into our schools and playgrounds, putting the lives of our children and grandchildren at stake,” the ad states.

But that claim was fact-checked by the pro-legalization Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which raised the issue with television and radio stations where the ads were being run. Two stations—WWMT and WPBN—decided to pull the ads, according to committee treasurer Matthew Schweich, who also served as deputy director for the national Marijuana Policy Project.

“I pointed out that Proposal 1 required that the regulator, the Michigan department of licensing and regulatory affairs, set a maximum potency level for edibles per Section 8 of the initiative,” Schweich said. “I felt it was necessary to prevent Healthy and Productive Michigan from misleading voters through the use of demonstrably false claims.”

The paid-for ad spots were seemingly then filled by another one of HAPM’s ad, which features former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb encouraging a “no” vote on legal cannabis.

Much of the footage appears to be from the same shoot that prohibition advocates used in advertisements against Arizona’s 2016 marijuana legalization ballot measure, suggesting that opponents of the Michigan proposal were in quite a scramble to find a replacement for their state-specific ad that TV stations would no longer air.

“It is somewhat uncommon for TV stations to pull political ads and this is the first time I’ve seen it happen on the six marijuana reform initiatives in which I’ve been involved over the past four years,” Schwich said. “It is representative of the dishonest campaign that prohibitionists ran in Michigan.”

All told, the anti-legalization committee spent about $340,000 on broadcast television ads—in addition to another roughly $350,000 on cable television ads—and the two stations that pulled the spot in question accounted for about one-third of the total over-the-air spend, according to Schweich.

Marijuana Moment reached out to the anti-legalization committee—as well as prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which provided significant contributions to HAPM and also promoted the ad—for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

The “unlimited potency” ad wasn’t the HAPM’s only attempt to persuade the public to vote against full legalization in Michigan. In another ad, the group’s president makes misleading claims about the impact of reform on traffic safety, falsely conflating active impairment from marijuana with the presence of cannabis metabolites in drug tests, for example.

And then there were a handful of generic anti-legalization ads like this one that relied chiefly on fear-mongering.

Representatives for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns both Michigan television stations, also were not immediately available for comment.

Michigan voters approved the marijuana legalization measure by a sizable margin on Election Day.

This story has been updated to clarify figures for HAPM’s TV ad budget.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

TV Stations Pulled Anti-Legalization Ads Ahead Of Midterm Marijuana Votes, Advocates Say

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants ‘Mandatory Assessment’ For Consumers

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants ‘Mandatory Assessment’ For Consumers

Since being founded in 2013, anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has consistently presented itself as supporting a balanced middle-ground approach between incarceration for consumers and the commercialization of cannabis. But it has never clearly described what it thinks police and government agencies should do to people caught possessing marijuana instead of putting them behind bars or just ignoring them.

Until now.

In a new document uploaded to SAM’s website last week, the group lays out “several key points to be addressed in model legislation” for cannabis at the state level.

Chief among them:

“Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use.”

Let’s break that down.

If the police catch someone possessing a small amount of marijuana once, the person is directed to a “mandatory assessment of problem drug use.” If they are diagnosed as having a substance use disorder they are then forced to undergo treatment. If they refuse, presumably they’d be incarcerated or otherwise punished in some way.

But even if it is determined that the person is “not a problem” user, they still get directed to “social services” to dig into “other life factors” associated with their decision to consume cannabis.

“Project SAM, like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, firmly believe that ‘good people don’t use marijuana,’” Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director, told Marijuana Moment after reading the prohibitionist organization’s proposal. “In SAM’s case, their overarching philosophy appears to be, ‘Only people with problems use marijuana.’”

“Clearly, SAM believes that marijuana use per se should be defined under the law as aberrant behavior requiring varying degrees of state intervention,” he said. “Such an approach perpetuates the needless stigmatization of marijuana and those who consume it, and is clearly at odds with the attitudes of the majority of the public who desire to see and end to these discriminatory and punitive public policies.”

SAM representatives did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for clarification about whether and how people would be punished for refusing mandatory assessments, treatment or participation in social services programs.

While the organization this year endorsed New Jersey decriminalization legislation that would require people caught with marijuana to undergo assessments, the new blog post appears to be the first time the group has made a considerable effort to articulate its favored alternative to cannabis legalization despite repeated promises over the course of years that it would “soon” release information about its policy aims beyond just impeding efforts to end prohibition.

Under the new plan, it appears that most people caught with marijuana would have to pay for treatment themselves.

But in a concession to legalization advocates who have pointed out that marijuana laws are often enforced more harshly against those from communities with lesser economic means, SAM does suggest waiving fines and treatment costs for people who don’t have the money to pay. They also say community service could be an alternative to shouldering the monetary costs for those with “severe financial hardship.”

Kevin Sabet, SAM’s president, has consistently said in interviews that he doesn’t seek to punish people for consuming or cultivating marijuana at home and is merely concerned with stopping “Big Marijuana” companies from commercializing addiction. But his organization has repeatedly opposed legislative proposals to allow possession and limited cultivation with no sales.

“You could grow a plant at home, actually. You could homegrow,” he said in a 2016 interview, for example. “You could do gifting. You could do a kind of decriminalization where basically we turn the other way.”

Nonetheless, the group opposed a 2014 ballot measure in Washington, D.C. to legalize low-level possession and homegrow, as well as legislation in Vermont this year to allow the same thing. Neither proposed to create a legal, commercialized cannabis sales market and instead allows adults to “gift” marijuana to one another in line with Sabet’s statement.

Both measures were enacted into law over SAM’s objections.

Perhaps tiring of standing on the sidelines yelling “no” to legalization to no avail, the group is finally preparing to try its hand in shaping policy. It remains to be seen if the new “model legislation” document leads to a more hands-on role in the cannabis legislative process for the prohibitionist organization.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants ‘Mandatory Assessment’ For Consumers

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants Campaign Finance Transparency, Kind Of

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants Campaign Finance Transparency, Kind Of

A leading anti-legalization group is cooking up a new follow-the-money tool, ostensibly to track contributions from the marijuana industry to lawmakers.

At least, that seems to be what Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is doing with this interactive map on its website:

SAM website screenshot

If you visit the page and click on a highlighted state, it brings you to a list naming select members of Congress, the district they represent and an undefined monetary “amount.”

SAM website screenshot

Presumably, this is a beta version of something that SAM has been talking about for some time.

Take last year, for example. A group of 44 U.S. House members signed a letter to the chairman of a key subcommittee, asking that language restricting the Department of Justice from interfering in state marijuana programs be included in an appropriations bill. In response, SAM president Kevin Sabet announced plans to “investigate campaign contributions” of signees.

“Legalization is about making a small number of people very rich,” Sabet said in a press release. “For them, it’s all about the money.”

“The representatives who sign on to this letter will be investigated, and any ties to the pot industry lobby will be exposed. There’s a money trail behind further relaxation of federal marijuana laws, and it points to politicians who have taken money from the next big addictive industry.”

It’s admittedly difficult to follow the money using the current version of SAM’s online map, though. There are few citations showing where the group’s information is coming from, and for most states, when you click on one of the hyperlinked “amounts,” it takes you here:

SAM website screenshot

For some reason, nearly every hyperlinked amount points to a URL apparently meant for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and the page only shows a 404 error message.

At least one state, Washington, seems to be mostly functional.

SAM website screenshot

SAM website screenshot

SAM representatives did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication, but they do appear to have slightly edited the webpage after receiving Marijuana Moment’s inquiry. The title “The Money Trail: Where Big Pot Meets Big Politics” was added above the map, and the phrase “(Work In Progress)” was appended to all sub-pages.

This story will be updated if the organization sends comment.

What SAM appears to be interested in accomplishing is drawing links between campaign contributions from cannabis industry interests and politicians who’ve come to embrace marijuana reform. Or in other words, campaign finance transparency.

Missing from that agenda, though, is disclosure of SAM’s own finances—a subject of particular interest to advocates and reporters following the marijuana legalization debate.

Sabet touted the group’s financial expansion over the past two years in a recent curriculum vitae (not linked here, as it appears to reveal his personal phone number). A summary of Sabet’s work at SAM noted that the 12-person organization has a $1 million budget, with $4.5 million in reserve.

The group also recently opened a new office in Manhattan.

When this reporter asked Sabet about financial contributions to SAM in a 2016 interview, he emphasized the role of grassroots, individual contributions. There is limited public information available about SAM’s financing.

An FAQ published on SAM’s website states:

“SAM is funded by small family foundations (with no interest in the opioid, tobacco, alcohol, or prison industries) and individuals affected by drug use and its consequences. SAM does not receive a dollar from the opioid, pharmaceutical, alcohol, or tobacco industries – unlike some pro-legalization groups like Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), which takes money from Big Tobacco.”

Another potential source of ongoing funding may be past supporter Julie Schauer, a retired art professor who donated at least $1.3 million to SAM Action’s efforts to defeat 2016 marijuana ballot initiatives in California and other states.

It remains to be seen when SAM will officially launch its online campaign donation tracking tool and what its impact will be.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants Campaign Finance Transparency, Kind Of

FDA Rejects Anti-Legalization Pharma Co’s Cannabis Drug Request

FDA Rejects Anti-Legalization Pharma Co’s Cannabis Drug Request

The same drug company that donated $500,000 to a campaign to defeat marijuana legalization in its home state of Arizona in 2016 is now actively fighting to deter competition against its own synthetic THC product. Efforts to extend its exclusive right to manufacture the drug have resulted in a back-and-forth with a federal agency that ultimately resulted in the pharma firm’s request being summarily rejected.

Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company that came under fire over its anti-legalization election spending, is also known for producing potent opioids and a drug called Syndros, a synthesized THC product containing dronabinol that’s similar to Marinol, except that it’s a liquid preparation rather than a pill.

To many advocates, the company’s anti-legalization spending reeked of conflicts of interest. Was Insys worried that legal weed in Arizona represented a threat to its bottom line? The company essentially admitted as much in 2007, writing in a disclosure statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that “the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected” if marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids were legalized.

Now, according to publicly available documents, Insys is engaging in another type of battle. It wants extended exclusivity over its oral dronabinol product. And in October 2017, the company asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decline applications from competitors seeking to produce generic versions of Syndros.

Insys has already sued two such drug companies, Par Pharmaceuticals and Alkem Laboratories, after learning that they had submitted Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDA)—the first step in the process of gaining approval for generic versions of existing drugs—which “triggered a 30-month stay” in one case, Insys senior vice president of regulatory affairs Stephen Sherman noted in a October 2017 citizen petition to the FDA.

[scribd id=377304774 key=key-4UC6MtuQ6FNNzwL1szNH mode=scroll]

In light of disclosures that drugmakers were submitting FDA applications to develop generic versions that referenced Syndros, which might eventually provide patients with cheaper alternatives, Insys appealed to the FDA.

Its request was in two-parts: 1) It asked the FDA to decline to “receive or approve” any ANDA applications that didn’t establish “in vivo bioequivalence” to its drug, and 2) that any ANDA applications for its drug “include fed and fasted state bioequivalence studies.”

In essence, Insys argued that its drug was too complex to be replicated by generic competitors that didn’t first conduct extensive testing demonstrating its biochemical likeness.

In a letter made public earlier this month, the FDA flatly denied the company’s petition. The government agency disputed the claims Insys included in its letter and clarified how the ANDA approval process works

[scribd id=377304971 key=key-ZbD3KBd1C1PEjm0ecT3X mode=scroll]

Robin Feldman, professor of law and director of the Institute for Innovation Law at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, literally wrote the book on all the different ways that mainstream pharmaceutical companies try to subvert generic competition.

She told Marijuana Moment that the bioequivalence testing Insys requested was already required in any ANDA application, so it was kind of like “petitioning the FDA to say ‘we insist that you do what it is that we all know you’re going to do.’ And with that, you get five months of delay.” In a phone interview, Feldman couldn’t help but laugh as she was read another section of the drug company’s citizen petition. That section says:

“Insys notes that it is currently awaiting an FDA exclusivity determination with respect to SYNDROS and expects to receive three years of exclusivity based on the submission of new clinical studies essential to approval.”

“Companies pile these exclusivities on one after another to keep generic competitors off the market as long as possible,” Feldman said. “So the reason I laughed is what you are seeing is a multipronged effort by the brand company to stave off generic entry as long as possible.”

“They’re using a variety of techniques: citizen petition, additional regulatory exclusivity, and adding these on. Each delay may be of limited time, but they may be extremely valuable—and together, they can add up to significant costs to the consumer,” she said.

In her book and published studies, Feldman reported that approximately 80 percent of citizen petitions, like the one submitted by Insys, were denied by the FDA. Submitting a citizen petition is often a delay tactic for drug companies hoping to maintain exclusivity over their brands, because “[d]elaying generic competition for as little as six months can be worth half a billion dollars in sales for a blockbuster drug,” she wrote in an op-ed for STAT.

False or misleading citizen petitions from drugmakers are so common, in fact, that Feldman created a beta “alert system” for users to submit and detect suspect petitions. When she ran Insys’s October 2017 petition through the system, it “came back with red flags,” she said.

Insys Therapeutics did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. This story will be updated if the company sends comment.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment here:

FDA Rejects Anti-Legalization Pharma Co’s Cannabis Drug Request

 

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