The tipping point has passed. Twenty-three states now allow medical usage of marijuana, and four have already legalized it for recreational use as well. President Obama has endorsed medical cannabis, and his administration has indicated that it could soon move it off the restrictive Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act. Rationalization of marijuana laws at the federal level and in most states now appears to be only a matter of time.
Yet there are forces still fighting tooth and nail to uphold prohibition, writing op-eds about the dangers of marijuana and fiercely lobbying on Capitol Hill and in state houses across the nation. Are there really people who still cling to the outdated and discredited notion that cannabis is a dangerous drug?
It turns out legalization is mainly opposed by five entities and lo and behold, they all have major conflicts of interest:
1. Big pharmaceutical companies: Compared to many pharmaceutical pills, marijuana is cheaper to produce, more effective and carries fewer side effects. It’s been shown to be an effective painkiller that can reduce or eliminate the need for patients to take opiates, while ironically, prescription meds like codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are behind the nation’s most pressing drug addiction crisis. No wonder big pharma is fighting legal pot. Major legalization opponents like the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids are both backed by pharmaceutical money, according to The Nation. And supposedly neutral researchers like Dr. Herbert Kleber and Dr. A. Eden Evins who speak publicly about the dangers of marijuana are actually on the payroll of major pharmaceutical companies, as VICE News reports.
2. Police unions: Local police forces depend on the War on Drugs for two reasons: One is federal grants and equipment they receive in exchange for busting users and dealers. Furthermore, police take advantage of civil forfeiture processes to pad their budgets with cash that is allegedly involved in drug crimes, regardless of whether the defendant is convicted or even charged. Not only do police unions fight against legalization measures, they actually lobby in favor of harsher penalties for marijuana, according to the Republic Report.
3. Private prisons: Corporations that build and run prisons need states to continue sending them an ample supply of inmates to keep their profits up. The Corrections Corporation of America has acknowledged that it needs the drug war to keep up the demand for its services.
4. Prison guard unions: Prison guards depend on fully stocked prisons for their jobs, so they have a vested interest in locking up marijuana users as well. In California, a prison guard union spent a million dollars to successfully defeat a ballot measure that would have reduced nonviolent drug sentences in favor of treatment and rehab, according to the Reason.com.
5. Alcohol companies: If people have the legal option to smoke weed, they might reduce their alcohol consumption. The beer, wine and liquor industry has dumped $19.5 million annually into lobbying since 2009, according to Open Secrets, at least some of which has gone toward opposing the loosening of marijuana laws.
There you have it. Marijuana could help millions of patients in need, and should be available for adults who want to use for whatever reason in a nation that allegedly is built on personal freedoms, but the end of prohibition isn’t coming without a fight because there is too much money at stake in maintaining a ban.