The debate is alive and well. While an increasing number of Americans indicate support for legalization of marijuana (at least for medical use), it is widely assumed to be the conservative, straight-laced, John Doe citizen who is served and protected by marijuana prohibition. Indeed, there is a significant percentage of Americans who feel satisfied marijuana possession, cultivation, and distribution remain a violation of federal and state laws. Growing evidence of pot’s medical value is the exception, but 37 states agree it is not appropriate to allow patients access to what many believe is genuine medicine.
Even though many consider marijuana prohibition to be based upon health issues, the most common argument against marijuana revolves around morality. Since 1936’s flamboyant movie Tell Your Children (later renamed the more familiar Reefer Madness), marijuana has been portrayed as a dangerous drug capable of transforming innocent, mild-mannered individuals into psychotic maniacs intent upon committing insane acts of violence and committing unthinkable crimes. But even in a society which permits liquor stores to freely sell intoxicants, many believe the use of marijuana is, in a word, wrong.
Several polls have been conducted which indicate as many as 53% of Americans favor legalization for personal recreational use, while legalization for medical applications is supported by (depending upon which poll you wish to believe) between 70% and 82%. More than 100 million Americans have admitted using marijuana at least once, and estimates of regular users typically top 20 million.
So who is responsible for blocking efforts for legalization? The quick and easy answer points to those in government, lawmakers in charge of promoting a safe and protected nation. But one must look past the legislators, and understand the corporate entities who ultimately control every office holder. Many bottom lines are threatened by the prospect of the repeal of marijuana prohibition, and as long as powerful and wealthy businesses hold the puppet strings, possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana will remain illegal.
A look at the most powerful opponents of the repeal of marijuana prohibition sheds light on the true nature of that opposition.
THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY
Pharmaceutical companies see a monstrous threat to profits if marijuana is accepted and approved as medicine. Thousands of scientific and medical studies have provided evidence marijuana is a safe and effective medicine for a wide range of ailments currently treated with prescription drugs (many of which produce undesirable side-effects, including inebriation) manufactured and marketed by pharmaceutical companies. Many of these drugs are expensive to buy, cost little to produce, and provide huge profits to their makers. “Big Pharma” stands to lose billions in profits if even a small percentage of conventional pharmaceutical drugs are made obsolete by medical marijuana. They could certainly produce their own marijuana, but with what would surely be mass competition causing prices to drop, it would hardly provide the profitability they now enjoy from products they currently market. In addition, the hardy cannabis plant can easily be cultivated by untrained and inexperienced home gardeners, driving prices down even lower. Pharmaceutical companies are not particularly known for reducing prices of their products. Medical marijuana is a genuine threat to them, and they are willing to spend massive amounts of money to fund lobbying efforts to maintain marijuana prohibition.
DISTILLERIES AND BREWERYS
Manufacturers of liquor and beer are also threatened by the prospect of marijuana legalization. Polls indicate that, if given a choice between marijuana and alcohol, many respondents indicated they would choose pot. Unlike alcohol, even heavy use of marijuana doesn’t result in vomiting or unconsciousness, and there is no hangover the next day.
A 2005 U.S. study blamed alcohol abuse for 75,000 deaths per year (revised recently to over 100,000), also saying it shortens the lives of alcohol abusers by an average of 30 years. There has never been a fatality directly attributed to marijuana use, and long term studies indicate even heavy marijuana use does not shorten longevity.
Even if most people aren’t familiar with these statistics, the alcohol industry is, and funding efforts to prevent the legalization of marijuana is essential to their continuing level of success.
THE PRIVATIZED PENAL SYSTEM
Prisons are big business, and cell occupancy defines their bottom line the same way room occupancy defines the profitability of hotels. While the average inmate represents from $25,000 to over $30,000 in yearly income for them, administrative bean-counters manage to keep costs to a minimum, providing substantial profits.
More than one third of all prison inmates is serving time for drug offenses, and marijuana-related crime represents 47% of all drug arrests. This statistic doesn’t take into account those inmates who are incarcerated for marijuana-related parole violations. Many prisons are filled to 200% capacity, lowering per-inmate cost while boosting profits.
If marijuana prohibition laws were repealed, privatized prisons would be forced to release a significant number of their inmates, and the resulting loss of income would be devastating to their bottom line. They too, have lobbyists in Washington working tirelessly to maintain security for their profitable businesses.
DRUG TESTING COMPANIES
The number of employers requiring pre-employment drug screening has grown exponentially in the last decade. More than 94% of all drug test failures is attributed to the detection of marijuana metabolites. Insurance companies provide financial incentives to companies who drug test, and many make drug testing a mandatory prerequisite for coverage. Companies routinely conduct random drug screening of their employees, often to comply with insurance company agreements, as well.
In 2001 (the most recent figures available), the drug testing companies represented a $5.9 billion dollar industry. No doubt, that figure has ballooned tremendously since then.
Cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin detection is miniscule in comparison to marijuana detection. Without marijuana, the drug testing industry would nearly cease to exist.
Our nation spends between 12 and 14 billion dollars per year to prohibit marijuana. Much of that money goes into law enforcement. The repeal of marijuana prohibition would mean unemployment for tens of thousands of law enforcement employees. At the same time, remaining resources would be freed up to address other, far more serious crimes affecting everyone.
DRUG TREATMENT PROGRAMS
Prohibition advocates often point to the thousands of admissions into drug treatment programs by marijuana users. What they don’t point to is nearly every admission is the result of a court order. Admissions not directly court ordered are often the result of a judge presenting the choice between drug treatment and incarceration. While there are certainly people for whom marijuana use is a problem, their numbers are few, and involuntary admissions greatly outnumber voluntary ones. Fees can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, and have created a thriving, profitable industry. If marijuana prohibition were repealed and drug treatment admissions were limited to voluntary participants, most programs would simply go out of business.
CALIFORNIA MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES
Since the passing of California’s proposition 215 in 1996, medical marijuana dispensaries have been granted business licenses and allowed to sell cannabis and cannabis products to patients with a California medical marijuana patient identification card. For at least a decade, a relatively small number of dispensaries quietly conducted legal marijuana distribution.
Recently, especially over the past two years, the number of dispensaries has exploded (a favorite statistic indicates there are now more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks Coffee shops).
The law requires dispensaries to be non-profit businesses.
Dispensary prices for medical marijuana mirror those of pot sold illegally on the street. They justify their prices by saying lowering them would encourage patients to buy from dispensaries, then sell them illegally for profit. No dispensary has ever claimed their high prices are the result of overhead expenses. While costs are closely guarded secrets, one can assume they are low enough to allow dispensaries to easily remain in business. Many have been shut down for violating state regulations, but few have closed their doors voluntarily.
It’s interesting to look closer at their explanation for their prices. Assuming their patrons are purchasing medicine to address medical needs (the focus of the compassionate dispensary), why would they sell the very medicine they need? They demand the public trust and respect their efforts to serve those patients with nowhere else to turn for their medicinal requirements, but suggest the very people they are helping are, themselves, untrustworthy.
There are, of course, numerous ways to creatively camouflage profits to qualify as a non-profit organization. To assume the practice is widespread would certainly be unfair to those who operate within the confines of the regulations and laws allowing dispensaries to operate, but it is unlikely all dispensaries are truly conducting non-profit business.
An end to marijuana prohibition would make medical marijuana dispensaries obsolete. While many may have plans to convert their businesses in that event, it’s not likely the process would be simple or easy, and the probable drop in prices may make that conversion unattractive to entrepreneurs.
State and local law enforcement officials are dedicating vast resources to weed out those dispensaries in violation of the medical marijuana laws, but they are in a continuous battle. The war on legal pot may be as impotent as the war on illegal pot.
Unable to openly oppose the repeal of marijuana prohibition, some of the profits gained under the protection of the non-profit label may be buying influence on those with the power to perpetuate prohibition.
MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS
Mexico is in crisis. The modern-day equivalent of the organized crime syndicates of American history is thriving, and turning villages and towns into hellish communities bathed in blood. Corruption in the Mexican Army and government is rampant. Even though the cartels have been fairly successful in suppressing press coverage, horrific stories of theft, assault, and murder are a weekly reminder that the country has lost its grip.
Mexico’s citizens are not the only victims. FBI and DEA reports indicate the infiltration of the cartels, taking up residence and doing business all over America. Every state is host to the soldiers of the cartels, and they are expanding their numbers daily. While an estimated 6% to 9% of their business involves cocaine and methamphetamines, the rest is devoted to the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
Conservative estimates indicate marijuana in America is a 120 to 130 billion dollar industry, and the lure of such wealth is simply too great for the cartels to ignore.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, who leads the powerful Sinaloa cartel, ranks 701st on Forbes’ 2009 Yearly Report, with an estimated fortune of a billion dollars.
As long as marijuana cultivation and distribution is a crime, the most successful criminals will remain in business, and with bloated coffers, the cartels can easily afford to finance efforts to support continued prohibition.
THE HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY
Insurance companies derive their incomes from providing protection from risks. By pricing premiums to produce higher income than expenses, they remain profitable. As long as people get sick, they will buy health insurance, and when they perceive a growth in health risks, they will increase their coverage. Prescription drug coverage represents a significant percentage of business for health insurance companies, and medical marijuana presents a very real threat to the necessity of many prescription drugs. Even a small reduction in the use of prescription drugs will have an enormous impact on insurance companies. The decline of prescription drug use in California, attributed to the medical marijuana industry, has already begun to make an impact. Many medical marijuana patients have stopped using prescription drugs altogether, resulting in some patients cancelling prescription drug coverage.
Critics of medical marijuana cite harmful health effects of the drug, yet there have been no reports of an increase in health complaints regarding its use. Based upon the warnings of such critics, one would assume insurance companies would embrace the opportunity to address the dangers and begin offering coverage for marijuana-related ailments. There is no indication they plan to do so.
Marijuana is not just a plant used for its psychoactive effects. In fact, marijuana prohibition originally had little to do with the practice of smoking it. Marijuana was primarily outlawed due to its relation to its cousin, cannabis hemp, which posed a real threat to two industries, nylon and paper.
Prior to marijuana prohibition in the 30s, marijuana wasn’t even called marijuana. Physicians were very familiar with a popular and common medicine called cannabis, and those involved with the manufacture of textiles and paper were familiar with the related plant with numerous industrial applications called hemp.
The Dupont Corporation (now Dupont Chemical) was responsible for creating nylon in 1935. Initially used commercially as toothbrush bristles, it later enjoyed worldwide success with the introduction of nylon stockings. During the same period, discoveries and technological advances were finding new and exciting applications for hemp, a natural fiber with many advantages over Dupont’s new product. The company’s president, Lammont Dupont, in partnership with William Randolph Hearst (see below) and Harry J. Anslinger, Dupont’s banker’s nephew-in-law (first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, later known as the DEA) mounted a successful campaign to exploit the link between the “devil weed” marijuana and hemp.
Industrial hemp has an immensely wide range of applications (see also below), many which would make current chemicals obsolete.
THE PAPER INDUSTRY
Billionaire business mogul William Randolph Hearst effectively maintained a monopoly in the newspaper business during the 1920s and 30s. He owned dozens of daily newspapers, magazines, and numerous other publishing companies. He also owned or held a majority of ownership in millions of acres of timberland harvested for the manufacture of paper.
Hemp had been used for centuries to make paper (our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and countless other historical documents were drafted on hemp paper). The process required to turn hemp into paper required time and man-hours, but the end result was a product far superior to paper made from wood pulp.
Shortly after the turn of the century, George Schlichten invented the hemp decorticating machine which separated bast fibers from the plant, greatly simplifying the paper making process. The cost to produce hemp paper was reduced to less than half the cost of wood pulp paper. This technology presented a great threat to Hearst and his paper empire.
Hearst made no secret of his hatred for Mexicans (and other minorities), and his discovery that they were smoking what he believed to be the very plant which threatened his paper empire formed the basis for his campaign to have the plant, and its uses, banned. He conveniently used his numerous publications to demonize “marihuana”, the term he popularized and introduced into the American lexicon.
THE OIL INDUSTRY
Industrial hemp is an efficiently renewable resource. It can be cultivated and thrive in every state. Southern and western states could harvest year-round, and hemp doesn’t require the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. The hardiness of the plant reduces the amount of resources required to maintain crops.
Hemp seed oil is superior to fossil fuels in a variety of ways, and its manufacture is a simple process. Oil pressed from hemp seeds requires no further processing, no refining to be used as fuel. It lit oil lamps for centuries.
Rudolph Diesel designed his engine to run on hemp seed oil.
Since its ban in 1937, research on hemp’s ultimate potential as fuel has essentially stopped, and crude oil companies have risen to become the most powerfully wealthy corporations in the world.
Any departure from the US’s crude oil-based economy would cripple the nation’s most profitable enterprises. It would also open the door to tremendous economic opportunity.
Hemp fiber is enjoying a come back. Illegal to cultivate, the U.S. is the largest importer of hemp fabric. While the plant is, in fact, a member of the cannabis family and does contain a miniscule amount of THC, the chemical most associated with marijuana’s psychoactive properties, it is impossible to smoke enough hemp to get high. Smoked marijuana typically contains 3%-15% THC, while hemp contains less than .3%.
The most common justification for the continuation of hemp’s inclusion in the ban on marijuana is its connection to its psychoactive cousin. Even though the leaves of the hemp plant are slimmer and lighter in color, the similarities in appearance are claimed to make differentiation between the two difficult for law enforcers to single out the smoked variety.
Apparently, drug enforcement officers do not suffer a similar dilemma when it comes to drugs in pill or powder form. On-site testing materials make identification a quick, easy, and reliable process.
Supporters of marijuana prohibition are not aware, or choose to ignore, the collateral ban on industrial hemp. To those who would lose profits if industrial hemp were legalized, it is an important secret to protect.
While hemp legalization poses a threat to them, it offers many solutions to problems, not only in the US, but worldwide.
Hemp seed is nutritious, containing about 25% protein. The original food known as “gruel” was made from hemp seed meal. Hemp oil contains 81% polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (the “good” fats), the richest known content in any food source. The renewable nature of hemp is a reasonably attainable solution to world hunger.
Sterilized hemp seed is in most bird seeds sold in the U.S.
Kimberly Clark operates a hemp paper mill in France to produce paper for bibles, preferred due to its durability and total resistance to yellowing.
Due to its superior strength and durability, hemp can completely replace wood as a renewable construction material.
Hemp fibers are stronger, longer, more mildew-resistant, and more absorbent than cotton, and do not require chemicals to cultivate like cotton. 50% of all the world’s pesticides are sprayed on cotton fields. The hemp plant is naturally resistant to pests.
Linen quality fabrics made from hemp are more comfortable, “breath” better, and last longer than cotton and other fabrics. Fabric made with at least 50% hemp fibers block harmful UV rays better than other fabrics.
Hemp oil is an excellent lubricant.
Hemp can yield 3 to 8 tons of fiber per acre, four times that of the average forest.
Health and morality issues, as well as criminal behavior represent the popular arguments against the repeal of marijuana prohibition. The truth lies in the threat to powerful businesses and their bottom lines.
Nearly 18,000 scientific and medical studies have proven, unequivocally, the medical value of marijuana and, at the same time, shown its use to be far safer than alcohol use for personal and recreational purposes. The biggest danger marijuana represents is realized in its criminalization.
Millions of sick, injured, and dying people are denied access to the relief provided by an outlawed medicine, and those who defy the law for medical or recreational reasons risk arrest, prosecution, expensive legal fees, fines, and incarceration.
Morality issues are not the responsibility of government or law enforcement. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights is there any inference to the contrary.
Criminal acts attributed to marijuana are not about marijuana at all. They are all about the money involved, and prohibition insures the business of marijuana will continue to be a high dollar enterprise.
Regardless of the opposition to the repeal of marijuana/hemp prohibition, the simple fact is the most powerful and successful efforts come from those big business bean counters who stand to lose money if marijuana and hemp are relegalized, and their actions have nothing to do with crime statistics, health concerns or morality. Joe Citizen may have strong convictions regarding the issue, whether for or against, but without the influence of wealth, he remains an inconsequential spectator.