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.
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.
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
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.
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.”