On TV and billboards, the fight against legalizing marijuana is about health, safe communities and our children’s future. But for Big Pharma and Big Tobacco – who fund these anti-marijuana efforts – it’s really about the bottom line. For years, large corporations and well-heeled lobbyists have blocked the legalization of marijuana for medical use or recreational use in order to protect their own profits.
Florida’s failed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical use illustrates how money, and not morals, motivates this issue.
This year, the anti-amendment group, Drug Free Florida, spent millions on ads to get Floridians to believe medical marijuana was harmful even if it has repeatedly been proven to have many health benefits. It is ironic that the group ran ads implying children would be unsafe if Florida’s initiative passed when the group’s founder set up a drug rehab program shuttered after several allegations of false imprisonment, abuse and torture of children.
Like other law enforcement agencies throughout the country, the Florida Sheriffs Association also lent a hand in preventing the amendment from passing. Most police departments make a lot of extra revenue from auctioning off seized property during a pot bust. In fact, the sheriff heading the Florida association has cited “seizures from marijuana grow houses as a key revenue source for his department.”
The crusaders against weed constitute a long list of suspiciously self-interested folks. Lobbyists work hard to secure for police departments millions of dollars in federal grants towards eradicating weed. Pharmaceutical companies compensate leading anti-marijuana researchers in order to keep their customers on painkillers over cannabis, which is cheaper. The prison-industrial complex would like to keep making money on building more prisons to fill with non-violent grass-smokers.
The alcohol and beer industries have also lobbied for years to keep marijuana illegal because they fear the competition that legalized weed would bring. Howard Wooldridge, an anti-drug war activist and retired cop told the online publication Republic Report: “Marijuana and alcohol compete right today as a product to take the edge off the day at six o’clock.”
According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
And it is in our country’s financial interests to do so. The federal government can gain billions in taxing weed and also spend less taxpayer dollars on incarcerating harmless stoners. But too many of our representatives continue to tout primitive anti-drug talking points to please the big businesses who write them campaign checks. In a free market, businesses need to innovate to compete with their rivals.
But instead large corporations pay for political favors so that Washington can quash their competition with regressive laws. This is crony capitalism, it’s a system that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., calls “legalized bribery.” And it has to stop. Money in politics is bad for business, and it’s bad for democracy.
Ordinary people can make a difference when they organize around a common goal. In this year’s elections, enough pro-marijuana voters showed up to the polls in the District of Columbia, Oregon and Alaska to approve the use of recreational marijuana – joining Colorado and Washington. Florida’s amendment was only two percent short of passing even with the forceful push-back from big money. And 23 states have already legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.
When the status quo is not working for us, and our political system doesn’t reflect the people they govern, it’s up to us to fight back. Voters took a stand against wealthy groups and showed up to the polls to liberate marijuana use in their states. Big money can’t defeat people power – and eventually, the public will rout big money out of the nation’s capital. As with the legalization of marijuana, it’s just a matter of time.