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Do Pharmaceutical Companies Support Marijuana Prohibition?

Submitted by smorgan on
For most drug policy reformers, the answer is probably an exasperated "duh," but a fascinating piece at Huffington Post from NORML's Paul Armentano raises some very plausible doubts about the popular theory that the pharmaceutical industry is pushing pot prohibition to kill competition.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing before forming an opinion, but here are the basic points as I understand them:

1. Pharmaceutical companies are vigorously pursuing patents on various marijuana components and derivatives for a great variety of potential medical applications. Given the rigorous and heavily politicized FDA approval process they'll ultimately need to pass, there's no sense in indulging anti-marijuana hysteria within the government bureaucracy.

2. These products will ultimately be marketed to a populace that has been spoon-fed mindless anti-pot propaganda for decades. Since the origins of the coming generation of marijuana-based medicines will be widely known, their manufacturers have an interest in marijuana being trusted, rather than feared, within the marketplace.

3. Pharmaceutical companies understand that marijuana can never live up to its reputation as a panacea that can replace modern medicine. This is true because most people don't smoke it, and most people don’t want their medicines grown on a tree. Conditions in places where medical marijuana is currently widely available demonstrate this.

4. Government bureaucrats, police and prison lobbies, and voters who've succumbed to drug war propaganda are the real forces behind marijuana prohibition.

Paul also observes the important role marijuana reform efforts have played in fostering a climate in which marijuana-based medicines have become recognized as viable. Only by breaking down bit by bit the barrier of hysteria surrounding marijuana have we been able to set a tone in which medical marijuana research can be discussed rationally in the public domain. There are exceptions, of course, but now that the science and the will of the voters can speak for themselves, corporate profiteers associate marijuana with dollar signs, not reefer madness.

It has also been proposed by some in the reform movement that pharmaceuticalized marijuana may lead to a crack down on the medical use of herbal marijuana, as corporate profiteers pressure police to purge their most obvious competitor. I reject that notion for a couple reasons: 1) the marketing of new marijuana-based medicines will have a trickle-down effect of politically legitimizing pre-existing medical marijuana activity. 2) We can't afford to bust 'em now, we won't be able to afford to bust 'em then. 3) The risk of jury nullification when bringing medical marijuana cases to trial is substantial and will remain so.

Finally, though Paul doesn't address this, many people have cited instances of pharmaceutical companies supporting organizations like Partnership For a Drug Free America as evidence of their complicity in the war on marijuana. I've attempted to research this in the past and couldn't find anything worth our time. The story died on my desk. To the extent that pharmaceutical companies fund so-called "anti-drug" advocacy, I now believe it has nothing to do with marijuana, but rather with a desire to proactively cover their asses for the destructive effects of the legal drugs they themselves manufacture and market.

So, I believe Paul's analysis should probably replace much of the conventional wisdom that currently exists on this issue. Unless other evidence emerges, or other experts of Paul Armentano's caliber (few exist), emerge to convincingly challenge his assertions, the burden of proof placed on those blaming Big Pharma for marijuana prohibition has been raised several notches today. If this helps us to refocus our advocacy towards other more demonstrable, palatable, and persuasive arguments for reform, that would be a good thing.

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