Industries Working To Keep Cannabis Illegal

Industries Working To Keep Cannabis Illegal

At a time when support for some form of federal legalization of cannabis is at a record high, it’s surprising when you hear states and politicians failing to take action. Sure, there are a lot of misconceptions about cannabis still floating around. But, there are also powerful industries lobbying against the blossoming cannabis demand in order to protect their bottom line.

Here’s a list of the top industries fighting to keep cannabis illegal.

Big Pharma

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Medical Cannabis is a taking the world by storm. Even without federal research into the medical efficacy of the plant or FDA approval, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. People suffering from epilepsy, cancer, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, Muscular Sclerosis, chronic pain, and more are all seeing the benefit in using a natural plant as treatment rather than harmful, and oftentimes addictive, pharmaceutical drugs.

The Big Pharma lobby is one of the biggest in America, with very deep pockets. They are working, and spending, hard to keep cannabis illegal. Insys Therapeutics, a large drug maker, spent $500,000 lobbying against legalization in Arizona during the 2016 election.

Insys has created a drug called Dronabinol, a synthetic cannabinoid compound, recently approved by the FDA. The company itself claimed in a recent SEC filing that legalizing cannabis could “significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product.”

Unfortunately, their money seemed to work. Arizona was the only state with cannabis on the ballot in 2016 that failed to pass the initiative.

Alcohol

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As more states vote to legalize recreational cannabis, more and more consumers are choosing weed over alcohol. The alcohol industry could lose up to $2 billion thanks to legal cannabis.

The alcohol industry has responded by throwing funding at anti-legalization efforts. In Massachusetts, another state voting to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis in 2016, saw intervention by alcohol interests. The Beer Distributors of Massachusetts and The Wine & Wholesalers of Massachusetts donated $75,000 to an anti-legalization campaign.

It’s worth noting this fear may be unfounded. In Colorado, the alcohol industry has seen an increase since legalizing recreational cannabis.

Private Prisons & Prison Guard Union

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Private prisons and the Prison Guard Union are two of the largest, and most powerful, lobbies in the country.

Private prisons are full of low-level, nonviolent drug law offenders, many of them doing time for cannabis. Without local law enforcement making these arrests, private prison beds go empty. You would think this is a great thing, but for Private Prisons, these empty beds mean lower profits. Lower profits, in turn, mean less benefits and employment opportunities for prison guards.

Private Prison companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against laws that would reduce mass incarceration in the United States. Two of the largest private prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO have spend $970,000 and between $250,000 to $660,000, respectively, each year.

In 2015 alone, California jailed over 6,000 people for cannabis, or cannabis-related, charges. And that’s a state with a long history of tolerance toward the plant. In 2005, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association gave $1 million to successfully defeat Proposition 8 that would have legalized cannabis.

In 2016, we saw California legalize recreational cannabis in spite of opposition.

Police Departments

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A little known, but incredibly significant, fact is that local police departments receive federal funding and military-grade equipment by agreeing to participate in the War On Drugs. Beyond federal and state tax funding, departments are also able to make a lot of money off the property they can legally seize when acting on behalf of the Drug War in an act called “asset forfeiture”.

Many local police departments have come to rely on this supplemental income, and aren’t willing to give it up easily. But with this additional funding comes quotas that police departments are required to meet. Unfortunately, low-level cannabis consumers and dealers are an easy target for racking up arrests.

According to Opensecrets.org, “The National Fraternal Order of Police has spent at least $220,000 on lobbying efforts; the National Association of Police Organizations, $160,000; the International Union of Police Associations, $80,000; and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, $80,000.”

Big Pharma Could Lose $4 Billion to Medical Cannabis

Big Pharma Could Lose $4 Billion to Medical Cannabis

A new report estimates that medical marijuana could cut into the pharmaceutical industry to the tune of $4 billion annually.

The report released by New Frontier Data suggests that if patients exchanged conventional prescription drugs for medical marijuana in 9 specific conditions, pharmaceutical companies could be affected accordingly.

“Any opportunity for alternatives that could result in reduced pharmaceutical drug use might present a compelling point of discussion from a public policy standpoint,”

said John Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier.

The report takes into consideration the prescription opioid painkillers that have caused a nationwide epidemic and a resurgence in heroin use. By swapping addictive opioids with medical marijuana, it could have an effect on mortality and addiction rates associated with opioid use.

The research uses data from a 2016 study that tracked prescription spending of Medicare patients in states with legalized medical marijuana. A secondary study estimated that by legalizing medical marijuana nationwide, it could amount to $1.1 billion in taxpayer savings.

New Frontier used this data by using the average reduction of 11 percent to yearly spending on prescriptions, specifically to nine conditions that are most commonly used when qualifying for medical marijuana programs. They include chronic pain, PTSD, sleep disorders, anxiety, epilepsy, nerve pain, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, Tourette syndrome and glaucoma.

By using market research data for these conditions and calculating annual spending on prescription drugs through 2019, they estimated that annual spending on prescription drugs for these conditions would go from $40 billion in 2016 to $44 billion in 2019. Applying the 11 percent reduction to prescription spending between 2016 and 2019 could add up to $18.5 billion.

But given the size of the pharmaceutical industry, these numbers are pocket change.
“The impact of medical cannabis legalization is not going to be enormously disruptive to the pharmaceutical industry,” Kagia said. About $425 billion is spent on prescription drugs in the United States alone, and opioid painkillers are a $25 billion market.

While the potential presented in the study is significant, the numbers rest upon several factors, including legalization of medical marijuana at the federal level. “Even if you had legalization overnight, it typically takes a while to get physicians who are comfortable recommending the drug,” said Robert Mikos, law professor at the Vanderbilt University Law School who specializes in drug policy.

Pharmaceutical companies appear to be taking preemptive action against medical marijuana, either through blocking legalization efforts or by using their vast resources to patent cannabis treatments, bypassing a significant amount of regulation. A report by the Washington Post showed that former DEA employees are being poached by the pharmaceutical industry, many of which have a background in regulation. In Arizona, Insys Therapeutics spent $500,000 fighting a grassroots effort to legalize recreational marijuana, while developing their own synthetic THC product.

“I think there are pharmaceutical companies that are worried about the impact that this could have on their sales,”

Mikos said. “Some, rightly or wrongly, complain they’re held to a much higher standard for their products. Their complaint is that you’ve got a movement afoot that is making grandiose and unsubstantiated claims about health benefits, and it’s hard for them to push back against that.”

New Frontier’s data may rest on many variables, but it does suggest a pattern that Mikos believes is worth observing. “If the data are accurate, it does suggest that there’s a significant portion of the population that might benefit from the legalization of medical marijuana,” he said.

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