With more than half of the U.S. population in favor of some form of legalization of marijuana in recent years, there really aren’t any good reasons marijuana is still illegal. Scientific studies, economic salvation in states that have passed marijuana laws and a resounding vote of confidence from the medical community have done little to persuade Congress to pass marijuana legalization laws — or even removing marijuana or hemp from the DEA’s list of Schedule I drugs. And yet, federal lawmakers are dragging their feet when it comes to aligning with the legalization movement.
It seems they’re running out of excuses that hold any water. Legalizing cannabis has potential to solve any number of societal problems like overcrowding in jails, cartel violence, environmental calamities caused by fossil fuels, ongoing economic crises and out-of-control over-prescribing of pharmaceutical painkillers, which is leading to a nationwide epidemic of heroin addiction.
“Despite public opinion, the medical community, and human rights experts all moving in favor of relaxing marijuana prohibition laws, little has changed in terms of policy,” said Lee Fang in an article posted on the Republic Report, a nonpartisan blog of the nonprofit Essential Information. Fang’s report, which listed five lobby groups that are fighting to keep marijuana illegal, suggested that prohibition is rooted in cultural and political clashes from the past. “However, we at Republic Report think it’s worth showing that there are entrenched interest groups that are spending large sums of money to keep our broken drug laws on the books.”
In 2012, the Federal Report published a list of the top five lobby groups vying to prevent legalization including police unions, private prison corporations, alcohol and beer companies, pharmaceutical companies and prison guard unions. All of these remain top reasons marijuana is still illegal, but we have five more to add to the list, a few of which may surprise you.
Top 10 Reasons Marijuana Is Still Illegal:
1.) Police Union Pressure:
Police departments across the country rely upon federal drug war grants to finance their budget. Federal lobbying disclosures show that police unions continue to push for stiffer penalties for marijuana-related crimes nationwide.
2.) Private Prisons:
Private prison corporations make millions by incarcerating people who have been imprisoned for drug crimes, including marijuana. According to Republic Report’s Matt Stoller, “Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, revealed in a regulatory filing that continuing the drug war is part in parcel to their business strategy.
Prison companies have spent millions bankrolling pro-drug war politicians and have used secretive front groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, to pass harsh sentencing requirements for drug crimes.” The more people incarcerated for drug-related crimes, the more money they make.
3.) Campaign Contributions from Alcoholic Beverage Companies:
Studies have shown that recreational marijuana users tend to drink less alcohol. Legalization has potential to dip into the profits of the billion-dollar alcoholic beverage industry. In 2010, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors contributed campaign contributions to a committee set up to prevent marijuana from being legalized and taxed.
4.) The Pharmaceutical Lobby:
With new studies proving the therapeutic effects of cannabis on chronic diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, brain injuries, ADHD, PTSD and acute pain, big pharma has potential to be the biggest loser if marijuana is legal. Since our bodies have natural CBD receptors, cannabis is far more healing and regenerative than most synthetic pharmaceutical products on the market today. Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now lobbies the government to relax marijuana prohibition laws, told Republic Report that next to police unions, the “second biggest opponent on Capitol Hill is big PhRMA” because marijuana can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”
There’s good reason that pharmaceutical companies are dumping millions of dollars into anti-legalization candidates’ campaign advertising that defames candidates in favor of legalization. According to an article in High Times earlier this year, of the top 10 most advertised drugs on television, medical marijuana competes with #2 Lyrica (neuropathic pain), #5 Humira (anti-inflammatory), #6 Latuda (depression), #7 Xeljanz (anti-inflammatory), #8 Celebrex (pain reliever), and #9 Abilify (depression). As long as cannabis remains on the list of Schedule I drugs, “Big Pharma needn’t worry about adjusting the nearly $1 billion in ad buys for those six drugs. As a Schedule II drug, you’d still need to “ask your doctor if prescription cannabis is right for you” and Big Pharma will certainly have pills, sprays, and inhalers of cannabinoid medicines at the ready.”
5.) Prison Guard Unions:
Between 40 to 50 percent of the prison population would be released if drug possession were decriminalized. Therefore, legalization of marijuana has potential to put a lot of prison guards out of work. Correctional peace officers’ unions have spent millions of dollars trying to defeat measures that would reduce sentences and parole times for nonviolent drug offenders or remove funding for in-prison drug rehab programs.
6.) Super PACs Funded by Petroleum Companies:
Nearly every substance that can be made with fossil fuels can also be made with hemp, and without any toxic by-products or pollution. Henry Ford was a hemp farmer and used nearly every part of the hemp plant to make composites, oil and fuel for his cars. Unlike corn, which is grown for ethanol to enrich gasoline and requires vast quantities of petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to grow, hemp requires no petroleum chemicals to produce and can be grown organically with a greater yield than corn every year. Hemp-oil fuel could replace fossil fuels and cellulose from the hemp stalks can replace petroleum products to make plastic. Since hemp root systems are carbon neutral and can actually aerate soil, hemp needs no herbicides or fertilizer, and hemp by-products can be brewed to create natural pest and fungus deterrents. This has potential to cost petroleum companies billions of dollars in lost sales of fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, plastics, oil and chemicals used to mulch wood into paper.
7.) Lumber Industry Lobby:
Since the infamous “Reefer Madness” campaign launched by Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul that decided to deforest his vast land holdings to avoid paying hemp farmers for making paper, trees have become the number one source of making paper. Until then, the primary source of paper was hemp, which is renewable and can far exceed annual yields of paper produced by forests, which take 20 or more years to fully regenerate. Making paper from hemp instead of trees would cost lumber companies billions of dollars each year. Making paper from trees requires sulfur dioxide, a highly toxic chemical that has had devastating impact on our environment, which leads us to…
8.) Chemical Manufacturers:
Chemical manufacturers make everything from plastic to polyester textiles, pharmaceutical binding agents to food preservatives, fertilizers to pesticides, and everything in between, which could be made from any variety of the cannabis Sativa L plant. Legalizing hemp and marijuana could put some chemical manufacturers out of business – or force them to reinvent their businesses to manufacture those end products from cannabis instead of petroleum products.
One company canna-historians credit as the first to lobby for prohibition in the 1930’s is Dupont, which owns the patents for nylon, polymers, synthetic textiles and sulfur dioxide — synthetic compounds, which essentially replaced hemp for making plastics, textiles, paper and rope. Today, Dupont is one of several chemical companies that against environmental regulation and contribute millions to campaign super PACs.
9.) Big Agriculture and GMO Producers:
Big agriculture lobbies are near the top of our list of reasons marijuana is still illegal. Again, hemp could replace GMO industrial crops for making fuel, and it can be grown organically without need for pest resistant genetic modifications. Canvas, denim and other textiles made with BT Cotton, a genetically modified crop that requires vast water resources and petrochemical assistance to grow, could be more sustainably made from hemp. Throughout history, Levis, canvas sails, twine, silk-blend textiles and fine linens were all made from hemp due to the durability of hemp fiber and resistance to mold. Legalization would have tremendous economic impact on GMO producers like Monsanto.
10.) Politicians Themselves – Pride, Prejudice and Campaign Contributions:
With all of the above nine lobbies spending billions of dollars each year supporting candidates that would make laws in their favor, politicians themselves top our list of reasons marijuana is still illegal. Politicians are unlikely to risk losing campaign financing by passing laws that would diminish profits of their biggest donors. With legalization gaining popularity nationwide, multiple new studies proving the environmental, economic and health benefits of cannabis and the economic success of legalization in several states, politicians have no good excuses left for repeatedly shuffling legalization to the back burner – except for protecting their biggest campaign contributors.
Some might argue that another reason Congress won’t pass legalization measures is to save face. The old-timers who have waged the war on drugs and run campaigns on the anti-marijuana platform in the past will have voters to fear if the trend toward advocacy continues. However, they’d likely gain a lot of credibility with their constituents if they were ever to admit they were wrong, something politicians rarely do.
There are many other reasons marijuana is still illegal but, eventually, the rising popularity of legalization will trump resistance in Washington.
“There will certainly be even more [legalization measures on state ballots] in 2016,” said Tamar Todd, director of marijuana law and policy and the Drug Policy Alliance to Dan Mercia in a 2014 CNN article. “More voters coming to the polls means more support for marijuana reform and in presidential election years, more voters turn out.”
Mercia predicted donors who are ready to fund pro-legalization efforts are more loose with their money in presidential years, according to activists, while Democrats and young people are more likely to turn out. He said, “This means legalization activists will be better funded to reach the nearly 70% of 18- to 29-year-old Americans who support legalization.”
The 2016 elections could make a compelling case for lawmakers to act.