Who Is Secretly Working to Keep Pot Illegal?
Big Pharma and Government
The Pharmaceutical Industry
In 2009, the global pharmaceutical market was worth $837 billion—and it’s on track to top $1 trillion by 2014. This is a lot of money to spread around, so when it comes to lobbying efforts, very few have this group’s clout. Mostly, Big Pharma gets what Big Pharma wants. And one thing it wants is for marijuana to remain illegal.
It’s not hard to figure out why. You can’t patent a plant—and that’s a big problem for pharmaceutical companies when it comes to medical marijuana.
Imagine a wonder drug able to provide much-needed relief from dozens and dozens of conditions. Imagine it’s cheap, easy to grow, easy to dispense, easy to ingest and, over millennia of “product testing,” has produced no fatalities and few side effects—except for the fact that it “reportedly” makes you feel really, really good. That would be quite a drug. Knowing all this, it’s easy to see why the pharmaceutical industry worries about competition from marijuana.
And besides its palliative prowess, researchers consistently find that patients prefer smoking marijuana to taking prescription drugs. In another study run by Reiman, 66 percent of her patients used cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs; 68 percent used it instead of prescription drugs to treat a chronic condition and 85 percent reported that cannabis had fewer side effects than other medicines.
Early on, the pharmaceutical industry fought back by spending money on anti-pot efforts, but the same NORML investigation that fingered the alcohol and tobacco industries as heavy backers of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that Big Pharma was doing so as well. “They were so embarrassed by that revelation” says MAPS founder Rick Doblin, “that they mostly stopped spending money on anti-marijuana lobbying efforts.”
Since then, the pharmaceutical industry has shifted its focus to developing alternatives to medical cannabis, often taking the traditional reductionist approach. Specifically, these days, if a pharmaceutical company wants to turn a plant into a medicine they isolate the most active ingredient and make what’s known as a “single-compound drug.” Morphine, for example, is really just the chemical core of the poppy plant. This too has been tried with marijuana. Out of the 400 chemicals in marijuana, 80 of them belong to a class called “cannabinoids.” Out of those 80 cannabinoids, a number of pharmaceutical companies have tried reducing marijuana to only one: THC. But the results have been unsatisfactory.
“There are certain cases,” says Doblin, “where the single-compound formula works wonders. But it’s just not true in every case. The pharmaceutical industry keeps claiming they’re not worried about medical marijuana because they make a better product, but when you reduce cannabis to just THC, you lose efficacy and gain side effects.”
The U.S. government pours $15 billion into the office of the Drug Czar each year. And this total doesn’t include a few obvious items like the cost of imprisoning drug offenders, nor does it cover state or local funds spin-off entities like D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)—which has an annual billion-dollar operating budget—or the dozens of other government agencies currently getting additional monies thanks to anti-pot laws. The problem is that all that money translates into jobs—lots of jobs—and it’s in the vested interests of all these agencies to oppose marijuana legalization.
The smoking gun in this equation, at least according to some critics, is the U.S. government’s reliance on propaganda in their anti-marijuana campaign. For example, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) 2008 Marijuana Sourcebook states that recent research shows marijuana is a “gateway drug” (it leads people to use harder drugs), even though scientists studying the issue keep finding the opposite. In 2006, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, for example, found no evidence that marijuana acts as a gateway drug. And a 2002 report by the RAND corporation, an independent research group with a historically conservative bent, examined the historical data from 1982-1994 and found the exact same thing.
Furthermore, Congress is a reactive body. “The number-one rule in Congress is ‘get re-elected,’” says NORML’s Paul Stroup. “Until we can demonstrate that pot wins votes, Congressmen are going to play it safe. But if something like Proposition 19 passes and polling shows that it increased voter turnout, this could become a key wedge issue for Democrats.”