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.”
Attorney General Sessions tells prosecutors to go after stricter sentences. In a memo sent to prosecutors last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined his policy of going after those charged in criminal cases with the utmost vigor, a policy that criminal justice reform advocates fear will lead to many non-violent and low level drug offenders being sentenced to harsh penalties.
The memo urged assistant U.S. attorneys to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” and stated that “[t]his policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency. This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”
“This is a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety,”
said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Sessions is taking the country back to the 1980s by escalating the failed policies of the drug war.”
The policy is a reversal from what Attorney General Eric Holder – Sessions’ predecessor – urged prosecutors to do under President Obama. Holder told prosecutors to avoid charges that carried mandatory minimum sentences in the cases of non-violent drug offenders, a tactic that
gave them more leeway when it came to what kind of sentences those charged could face.
“The last thing our country needs to do is go back to the ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ mentality that has made the United States the number one incarcerator of the world,”
said Anthony Papa, manager of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Jeff Sessions’ push for long mandatory minimums will destroy people, families and communities.”
For his part, Sessions claimed at a speech later that day that the new memo was not aimed at low level drug users. “If you are a drug trafficker,” he said, “we will not look the other way. We will not be willfully blind to your misconduct.”
One has to wonder whether Sessions – sensing the blowback from his previous pronouncements on marijuana – is looking for other avenues in which to affect drug policy. New in his job, maybe Sessions knows what he ultimately wants to accomplish and he is searching for the best ways to do that.
The problem, of course, is that what Sessions ultimately wants to accomplish is diametrically opposed to the goals of the marijuana law reform community.
Originally published: The Marijuana Times
This November, California voters will finally get the chance to vote on statewide legalization. The Sean Parker-led Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) has been endorsed by the state’s medical association, state legislators and most pro-cannabis supporters.
However, not every sector of California society finds the state’s perhaps imminent legalization so appealing and the main opponent is a familiar foe. California’s police officers and prison guards have raised about half of the money to the tune of $60,000 intended fight AUMA.
Considering that $60,000 is a mere fraction of the over $2.25 raised by industry heavy hitters for AUMA’s campaign, this effort will likely prove futile. But it’s significant in seeing who exactly is fighting legalization on a state level because that fight will translate to a federal level.
Afraid legalization will halt California’s drug war and cause these state employees to “lose the revenue streams which they have become so deeply addicted” to, the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies received its money from a variety of local and statewide police and even hospital associations.
The group’s fear of legalization stems from a pretty simple fact: they’d lose money. Fewer people would go to jail for cannabis, less raids would be executed on cannabis-related entities, and fewer individuals would be needed to work in jails.
Additionally, these police groups would lose “federal grants from the Justice Department to help fund drug enforcement efforts.” In the decade from 2002 to 2012, California police agencies raked in over $180 million in cannabis-related asset seizures; those seizures would plummet if cannabis goes legal in California.
Losing finances is a natural fear and fighting that fear is even more natural–it’s just probably a pointless fight. AUMA is polling well so far with about 60% of statewide voters stating they will vote in favor of legalization.