Empire State NORML in Albany with the Start SMART Campaign

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Lobby Day
The Drug Policy Alliance, along with other campaign pillar groups Empire State NORML, VOCAL-NY, Cannabis Cultural Association, LatinoJustice and the Immigrant Defense Project, held a press conference and lobby day to announce the Start Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade (Start SMART) campaign to advocate for the substantially amended version of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) this past Monday, June 12th.

Dozens of activists from all around the state took buses, drove cars and rode trains to Albany to join the campaign in launching and lobbying for the legalization bill. After the excellent citizen lobby day training provided by the Drug Policy Alliance, the group split up to divide and conquer before the press conference hitting as many offices as they could as well as attending scheduled meetings.

In the afternoon the press conference was held in front of the Senate Chambers. Joining advocates at the press conference were the MRTA’s prime sponsors in both houses, Senator Liz Krueger (D-New York) and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), as well as key MRTA sponsors including: Assemblymember Dick Gottfried (D-New York), Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), Senator Jesse Hamilton (IDC-Brooklyn), Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), Assemblymember Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Michael Blake (D-Bronx). We also heard from representatives of Start SMART pillar groups, Drug Policy Alliance (Kassandra Frederique), Empire State NORML (Doug Greene), LatinoJustice (Juan Cartagena), VOCAL-NY (Nick Malinowski), Immigrant Defense Project (Mizue Aizeki) and Cannabis Cultural Association (Nelson Guerrero and Jacob Plowden).

Afterwards the group of dedicated activists went back to work. Some went to the Senate and Assembly chambers to pull their members off the floor to seek their support of the new bill, while others continued dropping off materials at the offices of legislators who have voted for further decriminalization but haven’t supported taxation and regulation of marijuana.

The Start SMART campaign

The substantially amended MRTA would reestablish a legal market for marijuana in New York and create a system to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and the craft brewery industry, for adults over the age of 21. Over the past twenty years, nearly 800,000 people have been negatively affected by the harms of prohibition. With people of color accounting for nearly 85% of those arrested annually for possession, the collateral consequences are felt most in these communities. Because of the racial injustice caused by prohibition, the bill is not only an end to prohibition in New York, but also a win in the ongoing fight for racial equality. Significant steps are taken to ensure that those most negatively affected by prohibition will benefit from its repeal.

The reworked Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) includes substantial racial justice and small business-friendly amendments, including:

  • Creating a micro-license structure, similar to New York’s rapidly growing craft wine and beer industry, that allows small-scale production and sale plus delivery to reduce barriers to entry for people with less access to capital and traditional avenues of financing.
  • Establishing the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, which will invest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war through job training, economic empowerment, and youth development programming.
  • Ensuring diversity in New York’s marijuana industry by removing barriers to access like capital requirements and building inclusivity by allowing licensing to people with prior drug convictions. Only people with business-related convictions (such as fraud or tax evasion) will be explicitly barred from receiving licenses

Start SMART NY is a campaign to end marijuana prohibition and repair the harms to communities convened by the Drug Policy Alliance in partnership with groups dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition, including Empire State NORML.

NY resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the bill. 

Make sure to visit Empire State NORML’s website by clicking here and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Click here to see the press release from earlier in the week. and click here to go to the Start SMART NY website

Safe Streets Alliance et al. v. John Hickenlooper, et al. – Good News, Bad News

C1_8734_r_xA ruling issued on June 7th by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in response to a series of legal challenges to Colorado’s adult cannabis use regulations, includes both good news and bad news.

The Good News

Most importantly for the legalization movement nationwide, the appeals court rejected the argument raised by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma that Amendment 64 in Colorado, the voter initiative that legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana, was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act. That argument, made by these neighboring states, if accepted by the court, would have voided Amendment 64.

It should be noted that this was not a definitive ruling on the federal preemption argument. Rather, it was a procedural ruling, finding that only the US Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear disputes between the states. (The Supreme Court declined to consider a similar challenge in 2016.)

In fact, it was only after the Supreme Court had rejected their motion that the two states elected to raise these same issues with the 10th Circuit, by filing a motion to intervene in the Safe Streets case.

Also a big win, the Circuit Court rejected a similar attempt by a group of sheriffs and prosecutors from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska to use the US Controlled Substances Act and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution to enjoin the enforcement of Amendment 64. The court found that the Supremacy Clause “does not give rise to a private right of action.”

Hopefully this will give pause to other anti-marijuana zealots out there who might wish to use the federal preemption argument to undermine the various state legalization laws.

The Bad News

The bad news is that the 10th Circuit did reinstate a civil RICO complaint filed by private landowners in Colorado against a state-licensed indoor cultivation center, alleging it had caused a noxious odor that damaged their property value. The appellate court remanded the case back to the US District Court for further proceedings to allow the plaintiffs to attempt to prove their RICO claims.

While this is necessarily concerning to those in the state-legal cultivation industry, since the problems presented by the odors emanating from large grow operations is a theme which has been raised in several Colorado communities, it likely does not open the floodgates for every neighbor to bring a RICO suit against any cultivation center. Rather it likely will accelerate the adoption of the most effective technology by cultivation centers to minimize the odor of marijuana.

In the court’s own words, “We are not suggesting that every private citizen purportedly aggrieved by another person, a group, or an enterprise that is manufacturing, distributing, selling, or using marijuana may pursue a claim under RICO. Nor are we implying that every person tangentially injured in his business or property by such activities has a viable RICO claim. Rather, we hold only that the Reillys alleged sufficient facts to plausibly establish the requisite elements of their claims against the Marijuana Growers here.”

Washington: Support For Marijuana Policy Reform Surges Post-Legalization

legalization_pollPublic support for marijuana legalization has surged in Washington state in the years following the enactment of legislation permitting the commercial production and retail sale of the plant, according to survey data published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Fifty-five percent of voters approved the voter-initiated measure in 2012.

Investigators with the Public Health Institute in California assessed survey data from a geographically representative sample of those ages 18 and older. Survey data was collected every six months between January 2014 and April 2016 in order to assess support trends over time.

Authors reported that respondents’ support for legalization increased from 64 percent to 78 percent over this time period. Public support grew among those in every age group.

National polls similarly show an increase in public support for marijuana legalization following the enactment of such laws in various states.

016,” appears online here.

KC NORML Successfully Decriminalized Marijuana in Kansas City

Ballot initiative run by local group passes 71 to 29 to end arrests for possession of marijuana

17800391_10155957557253032_3769984899767242784_nKansas City, MO – In a blowout victory for sensible criminal justice policy, the voters of Kansas City, Missouri have decided to approve Question 5 and decriminalize marijuana to direct their law enforcement officers to no longer target citizens for possession of the plant and would replace current criminal penalties with just a civil fine.

The measure will amend local laws regarding the possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for adults age 21 and older from a criminal misdemeanor, previously punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine — with no arrest made or criminal record imposed.

“We could not be more excited about the positive impact passing Question 5 will bring to the communities of Kansas City. We fought long and hard for this result and could not have done it without the support of our volunteers,” said Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of KC NORML. “The era of reefer madness in Kansas City has come to an end and no longer will otherwise law abiding citizens be targeted or arrested for the mere possession of marijuana.”

This is yet another victory in the march to end the criminalization of marijuana in the United States.

“The passage of this initiative is not just a victory for the people of Kansas City, but for the democratic process,” said Erik Altieri National NORML’s Executive Director, “When concerned citizens stand up, stand together, and fight back against unjust laws, we will win. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to end our nation’s war on marijuana consumers and politicians across the country should take heed of the message voters sent in Missouri: if you don’t reform our marijuana laws through the legislature, we the people will do it for you.”

Nationally, more than 600,000 people a year are arrested for simple marijuana possession alone. These arrests are disproportionately targeted, the ACLU found that the racial disparity in marijuana charges were levied against people over color, by nearly 4 to 1.

Kansas City now joins the ranks of dozens of cities and states throughout the country that have ended the practice of arresting marijuana consumers,” said Kevin Mahmalji, outreach coordinator for NORML. “We at NORML are incredibly proud of the efforts of Jamie Kacz and her team at KC NORML and thank the voters of Kansas City for bringing a new era of sanity their law enforcement priorities and the overarching movement to end the prohibition of marijuana.”

Kansas City now joins a growing list of cities around the country that have adopted a more pragmatic approach for dealing with marijuana-related offenses on the local level. Houston, Memphis, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Milwaukee, Monona, Toledo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and several others have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

For more information, visit http://www.normlkc.org/ or http://norml.org/ 

 

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NORML’s mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.

Texas: HB 81 advances with a committee vote of 4-2!

By Jax Finkel
Texas NORML Executive Director

Texas-NORMLGreat news! Chairman Joe Moody’s House Bill 81, which would replace criminal penalties for marijuana possession with a simple ticket, has passed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a bipartisan vote of 4-2, with one member absent.

Now, the bill is headed to the Calendars Committee — the group of legislators who manage the voting schedule for the Texas House. What can you do to help?

Contact your representative in preparation for the vote. Send an email now or call their office to voice your support for a more sensible approach to low-level marijuana possession cases.

You can also support Texas NORML’s Lobby Campaign by becoming a subscribing donor to help us continue this important work.

If your representative serves on the Calendars Committee, he/she holds the key to when HB 81 will be voted on by the full House of Representatives, and your voice is especially important. (There’s no need to look up your representative — a different letter will load if your address shows you are in one of those key districts.)

Once the Calendars Committee schedules the bill for consideration, all 150 Texas representatives will cast a vote on marijuana policy for the first time in decades. Now is your chance to help prevent thousands of Texans from being branded with life-altering criminal convictions.

Contact your legislators today in support of HB 81! Then, spread the word so that other thoughtful Texans can speak out for humane marijuana policies.

Meaningful reform is within reach. Please take action today!

Sidenote: The chair of the Calendars Committee is Rep. Todd Hunter. In 2015, he supported marijuana law reform by voting for the Texas Compassionate Use Act and Rep. Simpson’s bill to regulate marijuana like jalapenos. Additionally, he voted for HB 81 when it was before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this session. We hope that this will have a positive bearing on the rest of the Calendars Committee. Additionally, Calendars will be addressing the budget and will not be addressing our issue until after that.

Please support the important work we are doing in Texas by supporting our lobbying efforts, making a donation or becoming a Texas NORML member.

 

This was originally posted on https://www.texasnorml.org/

Visit their site to find out more and get involved!

Depression, alcohol, and marijuana linked to later use of synthetic marijuana among teens

In the first prospective study of synthetic cannabinoids or SCs — the group of chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana — researchers have found that symptoms of depression, drinking alcohol, or using marijuana was linked to an increased risk of SC use one year later.

Where Is The Future For Marijuana Banking Reform?

depenalized_mjThe election of Donald Trump coincided with a whirlwind of activity surrounding marijuana policy, as voters in eight states decided in favor of initiatives regulating the distribution of cannabis for either medical or non-medical purposes.

Yet despite this statewide progress, the specter of marijuana prohibitionists such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions being appointed to federal offices in the new administration has justifiably left advocates, including NORML, uneasy.

But this week, Trump nominee for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, bucked this trend — indicated that he is open to the idea of working with financial regulatory agencies to level the playing field for local marijuana businesses.

Currently, state-licensed marijuana business face a web of conflicting regulations. Specifically, federal prohibitions largely prohibit these businesses from working with financial institutions, processing credit cards, and taking standard business deductions. When asked about these financial hurdles, Mnuchin stated, “I will work with Congress and the President to determine which provisions of the current tax code should be retained, revised or eliminated to ensure that all individuals and businesses compete on a level playing field.”

No industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to reliable banking solutions. While it is encouraging to see that a small but growing number financial operators are beginning to provide necessary services to those engaged in state-compliant cannabis commerce, it is self-evident that this industry will remain severely hampered without better access to credit and financing.  

But while Mnuchin’s statements may indicate a step in the right direction, ultimately, the responsibility is upon Congress — not upon the US Treasury Department or upon state lawmakers — to change federal policy so that these growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities.

There will be a number of pieces of legislation introduced in Congress to address these federal banking issues in the near future, and NORML will notify you as further developments unfold.

Please make sure to join our email list to receive our action alerts. 

As the nation’s largest and oldest consumer rights group, NORML is committed to supporting efforts that provide a safe, convenient, aboveground market for cannabis consumers, and that allow local entrepreneurs to enter the marketplace free from undue federal interference.

NORML Membership Survey

thumbs_upIt’s the start of a new year and with that often comes resolutions and goals to improve. Well here at NORML, we are feeling the New Year spirit and we want to ensure we start 2017 off the right way.

How are we going to do that? We want to hear from YOU! Whether you’re a member, long time supporter, or you just started following us, we ask that you follow the link below and take our Membership Survey.

MEMBERSHIP SURVEY

Since its founding in 1970, NORML has provided a voice in the public policy debate for those Americans who oppose marijuana prohibition and favor an end to the practice of arresting marijuana smokers. A nonprofit public-interest advocacy group, NORML seeks to represent the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who enjoy marijuana responsibly. By completing the membership survey, you are telling us about yourself, why you care about marijuana law reform, and most importantly how we can better serve you as advocates.

We hope you’ll take the time to provide us a little more information about yourself so that we can continue growing and improving on the work we do everyday.

Don’t worry, all of the information that we collect will be used for internal assessment only. We will not share, sell, or transmit your information to any other person, group, or organization.

As always we appreciate your dedication to marijuana law reform and your continued support.

Sincerely,

The NORML Team

Maine: Recount Effort Halted, Question 1 Victory Stands

Maine Yes on 1The group opposing Maine’s marijuana legalization initiative has withdrawn its recount effort.

Last month, representatives from ‘No on 1’ requested a recount of the vote totals specific to Question 1: The Marijuana Legalization Act. On Saturday, the campaign conceded that the recount would not impact the Election Day result, which estimated Question 1 winning by slightly over 4,000 votes.

The measure is now expected to be enacted 30 days after Gov. Paul LePage affirms the result.

The Act permits adults who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to possess personal use quantities of marijuana (up to two and one-half ounces and/or the total harvest produced by six plants). The measure also establishes regulations for the commercial cultivation and retail sale of cannabis to adults. Regulations governing marijuana-related businesses are scheduled to be in place by August 8, 2017.

Speaking live on WGAN radio last week, Gov. LePage criticized the measure, stating, “If there was ever a bill that the legislature should just kibosh, that’s it.” The Governor further suggested increasing the retail sales tax rates associated with the measure, as well as abolishing the state’s medical cannabis program, which has been in place since 1999.

Canadian Government’s Legal Marijuana Task Force Releases Recommendations

legalizationThis morning in Ottawa, a government task force assigned to study legalizing and regulating the adult use of marijuana in Canada released their recommendations. The task force recommended that sales should be restricted to those over the age of 18 with a personal possession limit of 30 grams. Their recommended model of legalization would put heavy restrictions on most types of cannabis advertising and tax the product based on THC content. The task force suggested that both storefronts and delivery services would be allowed as well as the home cultivation of up to four plants. They also believe that all of Canada’s current laws regarding medical marijuana remain in place as they are currently with no change.

“The prohibitory regime exists does not work and has not met the basic principles of public health and safety that have to be at the core of this public policy,” stated Anne McLellan, former minister of justice and chair of the task force.

The group’s nine members had discussions with scientific experts across Canada and received the opinions of over 28,000 citizens via online consultations before making their recommendations. They also made visits to states in the US that have already legalized marijuana for adult consumption.

While the task force’s recommendations are non-binding, they announced during the press conference that the Canadian government will present legislation in the spring of 2017 modeled after this report. The implementation date of that legislation is still unclear.

With Canada blazing a new and smarter path forward on marijuana policy, the pressure will only continue to build on the United States government to reform our federal marijuana laws.

You can read the full report HERE.

Who Is This Anti-Marijuana Zealot Sheldon Adelson?

C1_8734_r_x

I am writing today about a somewhat mysterious man who has spent tens of millions of dollars to try to prop up marijuana prohibition.

In fact, he has become the big fish in the anti-marijuana funding world. His name is Sheldon Adelson, and he is an 82-year-old Las Vegas casino owner (The Sands, The Venetian, and The Palazzo). He is reportedly worth $29 billion, making him the 12th-richest person in America.

Adelson once made the late website Gawker’s “Billionaire Shit List,” which called him “evil” for “spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to get extreme right-wingers in office.” And he should be on our “sh*t list” as well for spending funds on prohibition, which as a policy has resulted in the needless arrest of more than 26 million Americans over the last 40 years.

Adelson was also the principal financial backer of Freedom Watch, a now-defunct political advocacy group founded to counter the influence of George Soros, the largest pro-legalization funder in the country, and liberal groups such as MoveOn.org. Freedom Watch spent $30 million of Adelson’s money in 2008 before fading into oblivion.

In 2014, Adelson gave $5.5 million to the Drug Free Florida campaign to help defeat the medical use initiative and has given another $1.5 million to fight the pending medical use initiative this year, with more likely to follow. He also just donated $1 million to the group opposing the legalization initiative on the ballot in Massachusetts.

In his home state of Nevada, where a full legalization initiative is on the ballot for this upcoming election, Adelson has donated $2 million to oppose the initiative. He recently purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal for $140 million, since then the paper withdrew its prior endorsement of marijuana legalization for the state.

One cannot help but wonder what would motivate an individual to want to continue a failed public policy that results in the needless arrest of so many of our fellow citizens. In Adelson’s case, it was apparently a personal family tragedy. His 48-year-old son, Mitchell, died in 2005 of a drug overdose involving cocaine and heroin. Another son, Gary, has also struggled with drug addiction and is allegedly estranged from his father altogether. Adelson has said he sees marijuana as a “gateway drug” that led to his sons’ problems.

Of course, the so-called “gateway theory” has long since been refuted by serious scientists, including the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (“There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other drugs.”) and the Rand Corporation (“While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified.”)

And the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction recently reached this same conclusion: “As for a possible switch from cannabis to hard drugs, it is clear that the pharmacological properties of cannabis are irrelevant in this respect. There is no physically determined tendency towards switching from marijuana to harder substances. Social factors, however, do appear to play a role. The more users become integrated in an environment (“subculture”) where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can also be obtained, the greater the chance that they may switch to hard drugs. Separation of the drug markets is therefore essential.”

In addition, those drug users who do end up using heroin or other far more dangerous drugs seldom start with marijuana. Rather recent research shows it is alcohol that is the first drug used in string of drugs leading to eventual addition, not marijuana.

One can surely sympathize with the sense of loss for any parent who experiences the death of a child, regardless of the cause. But these and other scientific findings suggest that If more jurisdictions legalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol — thereby allowing its sale to be governed by licensed, state-authorized distributors rather than by criminal entrepreneurs and pushers of various other, hard drugs — even fewer marijuana users will progress to other illicit drugs.

In some ways it reminds one of former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the youngest son of longtime Sen. Ted Kennedy ( D-Mass.). Patrick Kennedy became addicted to pharmaceutical opioids, alcohol, and other illegal drugs before finally embarrassing himself and the Congress when he was arrested in 2006 after crashing his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill. At the time, he was high on OxyContin and drunk from alcohol. In Patrick Kennedy’s own words, “OxyContin was what I used for years, but I’m an addict, so it doesn’t matter what it is. I used benzodiazepines, alcohol, stimulants, Adderall, cocaine, you name it.”

In 2009 Kennedy again checked himself into a drug rehabilitation program.

Kennedy then co-founded Project SAM, the principal anti-marijuana organization working in the country to maintain marijuana prohibition. While that strategy may be therapeutically useful for the (hopefully) recovering addict, it places the burden for his problems unfairly on the rest of us.

In fact, recent studies have shown that in states in which medical marijuana have been legalized, the use of opioids has significantly declined.

It is a sad reflection on these two individuals that they use their wealth and fame to punish the rest of us, by working to slow the inevitable end of marijuana prohibition.

About 60 percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization, despite the efforts of Adelson and Patrick Kennedy to try to defend prohibition. Nonetheless, there is naturally some concern that this influx of big money might sway a sufficient number of voters to defeat some of the pending legalization initiatives. The defeat of the medical use initiative in Florida in 2014 (it had the support of 58 percent of those voting, but fell short of the 60 percent required for a constitutional amendment) is attributed by many observers to the out-of-state funding from Adelson.

In the end, our nation’s marijuana policy must be based on science and common sense, not on the tragic examples of those who were unable to control their addictions. I’m confident the pro-legalization forces, with our positive message of the benefits to society from legalization, will carry the day and that we will both out-raise funds and outspend our opponents in these upcoming voter initiative campaigns, not just this year, but for as long as it takes to finally end marijuana prohibition.

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This column was originally published on ATTN.com.

http://www.attn.com/stories/12217/sheldon-adelson-opposes-legalization-marijuana

 

First atomic-level image of the human ‘marijuana receptor’ unveiled

In a discovery that advances the understanding of how marijuana works in the human body, an international group of scientists has, for the first time, created a three-dimensional atomic-level image of the molecular structure activated by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active chemical in marijuana.

Gallup: Record High Percentage Of Americans Back Legalizing Marijuana

Legalize marijuanaSixty percent of Americans believe that “the use of marijuana should be legal,” according to nationwide polling data released today by Gallup. The percentage is the highest level of support ever reported by the polling group, and represents more than a doubling in public support over the past two decades.

The data closely follows the release of polling data compiled by the Pew Research Center showing a similar, dramatic shift in public opinion in favor of legalization.

Those ages 18 to 34 (77 percent), Independents (70 percent), and Democrats (67 percent) were most likely to endorse legalization in the Gallup poll. Support was weakest among Republicans (42 percent) and those age 55 or older (45 percent).

The poll possesses a margin of error of +/- four percentage points.

Cannalytics Survey: Cannabis Consumers Most Likely To Identify As Independent Voters

ballot_box_leafAmericans who use cannabis or hold favorable views toward the plant tend to identify themselves politically as Independent rather than as a Democrat or a Republican, according to the results of a Cannalytics consumer research survey published today.

Among respondents, 46 percent defined themselves as Independent. Of this group, over 90 percent consider marijuana policy reform to be among the most important election issues, and more than 75 percent said that they are more motivated to vote this election because of pending cannabis-specific ballot measures.

Voters in nine states will decide on Election Day in favor of statewide ballot measures seeking to legalize either the medical use or the adult use of marijuana.

Cannalytics and its partners, including NORML, provided a 51-point questionnaire to over 5,800 respondents to gauge their opinions on cannabis policy, as well as their own marijuana use. Respondents typically were well educated, most did not smoke tobacco, and 53 percent suggested that they would consume less alcohol if cannabis were legally regulated for adults.

Full results of the 2016 Cannabis Voter Report are available online at: http://www.cannalytics.us/.

Pharma Company Admits Opposing Marijuana Legalization to Protect Its Corporate Profits

C1_8734_r_xThose of us involved in the marijuana legalization movement have long assumed that those companies that produce and sell competing products — especially alcohol and tobacco — were working behind the scenes to try to maintain marijuana prohibition and to protect their duopoly for legal recreational drugs. These industries have lobbyists who regularly work with state and federal elected officials to keep legal marijuana off the market.

But we now see the pharmaceutical companies are also getting directly involved in political efforts to maintain marijuana prohibition, worried that legal marijuana will undermine their bottom line.

Pharmaceutical company joins the war on marijuana smokers.

Recently, we saw the first direct evidence that pharmaceutical companies are now working to defeat marijuana legalization efforts, acknowledging that their intent is to protect their market in synthetic opioid drugs.

Earlier this month, Insys Therapeutics Inc., an Arizona-based company, donated $500,000 to a group calling itself Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a newly formed organization established to try to defeat Proposition 205, the marijuana legalization voter initiative that will appear on the ballot this November in that state.

Insys currently markets just one product, Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl spray, a synthetic opioid far more potent than heroin (fentanyl is the drug found in Prince’s system following his death in April). “Insys Therapeutics made $62 million in net revenue on Subsys fentanyl sales in the first quarter of this year, representing 100 percent of the company’s earnings,” according to The Washington Post. “The CDC has implicated the drug in a ‘surge’ of overdose deaths in several states in recent years.”

Survey data compiled from medical marijuana patients show that subjects often reduce their use of prescription drug therapies — particularly opioids — when they have legal access to cannabis. According to a 2015 RAND Corp. study, opiate-related abuse and mortality is lower in jurisdictions that permit medical cannabis access, compared to those that outlaw the plant.

Insys has come under scrutiny of law enforcement. According to The Washington Post, a number of states are currently investigating Insys for illegally paying physicians to prescribe their drug in situations in which it was inappropriate. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming the company’s “desire for increased profits led it to disregard patients’ health and pushed addictive opioids for non-FDA approved purposes.”

The smoking gun.

When the company first made its half-million dollar contribution to the group opposing the Arizona legalization initiative — the largest single contribution to the group by a factor of four — the company claimed that its reason for opposing the voter initiative was “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens and particularly its children.”

But when the company filed a legally required disclosure statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it acknowledged to shareholders that it was making the donation because it feared a decline in the sales of its powerful opioid product and that of a second drug it is developing: Dranabinol, a synthetic cannabinoid. Synthetic cannibinoid is a blanket term for an artificial version of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the active compound in the marijuana plant — intended to alleviate chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting. The company concedes that the scientific literature has confirmed the benefits of natural marijuana over synthetic THC:

“Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product candidate. … If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced, and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.”

The Arizona Republic reported that the company, while publicly claiming to have kids’ best interests in mind, is clearly more concerned with ways to “protect its own bottom line.”

And the company has good reason for that fear. Recently published studies have found that states that provide for the legal use of medical marijuana had a 25 percent decline in opioid prescriptions. Another recent study from Columbia University found the implementation of medical marijuana programs is associated with a decrease in the prevalence of opioids detected among fatally injured drivers, based on a review of 69,000 fatalities in 18 states, according to data published in the American Journal of Public Health. Where legal marijuana is available, people use far fewer opioid drugs.

So we now have direct evidence that this pharmaceutical company in Arizona is spending large amounts of money to avoid having to compete with legal marijuana, in order to protect its market share for an addictive and dangerous synthetic opioid and a synthetic form of THC, at the expense of public health.

This is not the first instance of pharmaceutical companies pouring money into the “war on drugs.” In 2014, The Nation published an article revealing that the makers of Oxycontin and Vicodin were two of the largest contributors to The Partnership for Drug Free Kids and the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, two groups that oppose marijuana legalization and support continued prohibition.

Insys will certainly not be the last pharmaceutical company caught putting company profits ahead of concern for public health, but it is the first instance we have seen where a company was caught with its hands in the cookie jar, opposing a marijuana legalization initiative purely for reasons of corporate greed.

Tobacco and alcohol companies have long opposed legal marijuana.

It is understandable that recreational and pharmaceutical industries would not wish to compete with legal marijuana. By any measure, their products are far more dangerous and far more addictive.

Overdose Deaths.

For comparison purposes, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, excessive alcohol use results in approximately 88,000 deaths per year in this country. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco smoking results in more than 480,000 deaths each year in this country, about 1,300 people each day.

A 2014 study by Johns Hopkins University found that states that legalized medical marijuana saw a 25 percent decline in overdose deaths from prescription drugs.

Marijuana has never caused an overdose death in the history of mankind. According to a recent report from the World Health Organization, one would have to smoke “between 238 and 1,113 joints a day – or at least 10 joints an hour, for 24 hours straight – before overdose would become a realistic concern” for marijuana.

Addictive potential.

While one can develop a dependence on marijuana smoking, the threat of dependence with marijuana is far less than with either alcohol or tobacco. Here is what the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine concluded in regard to cannabis’ potential dependence liability, in the context of other controlled substances:

“In summary, although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana drug dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.”

Here are their dependence ratings:

Tobacco: 32 percent (proportion of users who ever become dependent)
Heroin: 23 percent
Cocaine: 17 percent
Alcohol: 15 percent
Anxiolytics/sedatives: 9 percent
Marijuana/hashish: 9 percent

So if one is electing to use a recreational drug, marijuana is clearly the safest alternative. And if one is using an opioid drug for pain, they should experiment with marijuana as a substitute for the more dangerous and addictive opioids. For many, it is an effective and far less dangerous alternative.

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Keith Stroup is a Washington, D.C. public-interest attorney who founded NORML in 1970.

This column was first published in ATTN.com.

http://www.attn.com/stories/11586/pharmaceutical-company-admits-opposing-marijuana-legalization

 

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