Pubdate: Tue, 01 Jul 2014
Source: Nation, The (US)
Copyright: 2014 The Nation
Author: Lee Fang


Opponents of marijuana-law reform insist that legalization is 
dangerous-but the biggest threat is to their own bottom line.

Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, did several stints 
in rehab after crashing his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill in 
2006, a headline-making event that revealed the then-US congressman for 
Rhode Island had been abusing prescription drugs, including the 
painkiller OxyContin. Kennedy went on to make mental health-including 
substance abuse-a cornerstone of his political agenda, and he is 
reportedly at work on a memoir about his struggles with addiction and 
mental illness. In 2013, he also helped found an advocacy group, Project 
SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), which has barnstormed the country 
opposing the growing state and federal efforts to legalize pot.

Taking the stage to rousing applause last February, Kennedy joined more 
than 2,000 opponents of marijuana legalization a few miles south of 
Washington, DC, at the annual convention of the Community Anti-Drug 
Coalition of America (CADCA), one of the largest such organizations in 
the country.

"Let me tell you, there is nothing more inconsistent with trying to 
improve mental health and reduce substance-abuse disorders in this 
country than to legalize a third drug," Kennedy boomed. The former 
congressman also praised his fellow speakers for standing up to the 
"extremist responses" from legalization advocates.

Given that CADCA is dedicated to protecting society from dangerous 
drugs, the event that day had a curious sponsor: Purdue Pharma, the 
manufacturer of Oxy-Contin, the highly addictive painkiller that nearly 
ruined Kennedy's congressional career and has been linked to thousands 
of overdose deaths nationwide.

Prescription opioids, a line of pain-relieving medications derived from 
the opium poppy or produced synthetically, are the most dangerous drugs 
abused in America, with more than 16,000 deaths annually linked to 
opioid addiction and overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention report that more Americans now die from painkillers than from 
heroin and cocaine combined. The recent uptick in heroin use around the 
country has been closely linked to the availability of prescription 
opioids, which give their users a similar high and can trigger a heroin 
craving in recovering addicts. (Notably, there are no known deaths 
related to marijuana, although there have been instances of impaired 

People in the United States, a country in which painkillers are 
routinely overprescribed, now consume more than 84 percent of the entire 
worldwide supply of oxycodone and almost 100 percent of hydrocodone 
opioids. In Kentucky, to take just one example, about one in fourteen 
people is misusing prescription painkillers, and nearly 1,000 Kentucky 
residents are dying every year.

So it's more than a little odd that CADCA and the other groups leading 
the fight against relaxing marijuana laws, including the Partnership for 
Drug-Free Kids (formerly the Partnership for a Drug-Free America), 
derive a significant portion of their budget from opioid manufacturers 
and other pharmaceutical companies. According to critics, this funding 
has shaped the organization's policy goals: CADCA takes a softer 
approach toward prescription-drug abuse, limiting its advocacy to a call 
for more educational programs, and has failed to join the efforts to 
change prescription guidelines in order to curb abuse. In contrast, 
CADCA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids have adopted a hard-line 
approach to marijuana, opposing even limited legalization and supporting 
increased police powers.

A close look at the broader political coalition lobbying against 
marijuana-law reform reveals many such conflicts of interest. In fact, 
the CADCA event was attended by representatives of a familiar 
confederation of anti-pot interests, many of whom have a financial stake 
in the status quo, including law enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical 
firms, and nonprofits funded by federal drug-prevention grants.

The anti-pot lobby's efforts run counter to a nationwide tide of 
liberalization when it comes to marijuana law. In 2012, voters legalized 
pot in Colorado and Washington State; this year, voters in Alaska appear 
poised to do likewise. Since 1996, twenty-two states and the District of 
Columbia have legalized medical marijuana or effectively decriminalized 
it, and a contentious ballot initiative in Florida may result in the 
South's first medical marijuana law. Meanwhile, legislatures across the 
country are debating a variety of bills that would continue to ease 
marijuana restrictions or penalties. On the federal level, a bipartisan 
coalition of lawmakers has challenged the Drug Enforcement 
Administration in testy hearings, and many have called for removing 
marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, 
which puts it in the same class as heroin and LSD.

The opponents of marijuana-law reform argue that such measures pose 
significant dangers, from increased crime and juvenile delinquency to 
addiction and death. But legalization's biggest threat is to the bottom 
line of these same special interests, which reap significant monetary 
advantages from pot prohibition that are rarely acknowledged in the 
public debate.

The CADCA convention featured a roster of federal officials and members 
of Congress as well as a guest appearance by R&B singer Mario. The 
speakers talked with energy about the coming showdown over marijuana-law 

"We need to apply what Hank Aaron said about baseball to our movement 
today," asserted Sue Thau, a CADCA consultant. "We need to always keep 

Buses were scheduled to ferry the participants to Congress for meetings, 
and Thau coached the assembled activists to emphasize the potential 
risks for young people, something that "everybody on Capitol Hill can 
agree on." In addition to lobbying against marijuana-law reform, she 
encouraged everyone to preserve key federal funding streams, to "make 
sure all the programs that fund our field, every one of them," are 
protected in the appropriations process for the coming fiscal year.

Ironically, both CADCA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids are 
heavily reliant on a combination of federal drug-prevention education 
grants and funding from pharmaceutical companies. Founded in 1992, CADCA 
has lobbied aggressively for a range of federal grants for groups 
dedicated to the "war on drugs." The Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997, 
a program directed by the White House Office of National Drug Control 
Policy, was created through CADCA's advocacy. That law now allocates 
over $90 million a year to community organizations dedicated to reducing 
drug abuse. Records show that CADCA has received more than $2.5 million 
in annual federal funding in recent years. The former Partnership for a 
Drug-Free America, founded in 1985 and best known for its dramatic "This 
is your brain on drugs" public service announcements, has received 
similarly hefty taxpayer support while advocating for increased 
anti-drug grant programs.

The Nation obtained a confidential financial disclosure from the 
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids showing that the group's largest donors 
include Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, and Abbott 
Laboratories, maker of the opioid Vicodin. CADCA also counts Purdue 
Pharma as a major supporter, as well as Alkermes, the maker of a 
powerful and extremely controversial new painkiller called Zohydrol. The 
drug, which was released to the public in March, has sparked a 
nationwide protest, since Zohydrol is reportedly ten times stronger than 
OxyContin. Janssen Pharmaceutical, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that 
produces the painkiller Nucynta, and Pfizer, which manufactures several 
opioid products, are also CADCA sponsors. For corporate donors, CADCA 
offers a raft of partnership opportunities, including authorized use of 
the "CADCA logo for your company's marketing, website, and advertising 
materials, etc."

The groups' approach to marijuana contrasts sharply with their attitude 
toward prescription-drug abuse. In March of this year, the heads of 
CADCA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids sent a letter to Attorney 
General Eric Holder and other government officials urging them to keep 
marijuana listed as Schedule I, a designation indicating that it has no 
recognized medical use and is among society's most dangerous drugs. "We 
are aware of a small chorus in the United States Congress (copied on 
this letter) who are calling for the rescheduling of marijuana," wrote 
Arthur Dean, a retired general and the president of CADCA, and Stephen 
Pasierb, head of the Partnership. "[O]ur groups agree with the most 
recent Health and Human Services (HHS) determination that marijuana 
should remain a Schedule I drug."

CADCA's website makes it clear that the organization-dedicated to a 
"world of safe, healthy and drug-free communities"-has adopted marijuana 
as its primary concern. The group's stated policy priorities are to 
preserve and expand two federal drug-prevention grant programs and to 
oppose marijuana-law reform. CADCA has hosted training seminars to 
instruct community organizations in the best tactics for opposing 
efforts to legalize even medical marijuana. The group also offers 
template letters to the editor, sample opinion columns, talking points 
and other tips for pushing back against reform efforts.

Prescription drugs are another story. In this realm, both CADCA and the 
Partnership favor educational campaigns and limited pill-monitoring 
programs-measures that experts on painkiller addiction say are 
insufficient to deal with the burgeoning problem. CADCA's site mentions 
prescription-drug abuse primarily in the context of expanding outreach 
programs funded through the Drug-Free Communities Act.

In February, the same month that CADCA held its convention, forty-two 
leading drug-prevention groups sent a letter to the Food and Drug 
Administration to protest the recent approval of Zohydro. Notably absent 
from the signatories: CADCA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. A 
policy paper posted by CADCA regarding prescription drugs doesn't call 
for a shift in how the FDA regulates painkillers, arguing instead that 
federal drug-prevention grant programs should be expanded.

Asked about CADCA's efforts to combat prescription-drug abuse, Thau 
replied that the group supports educational programs and drug-monitoring 
efforts, and also recently signed on to a bill-sponsored by Senator Ed 
Markey-that offers a civil-liability exemption to those who provide 
preventative medications to individuals experiencing an overdose. CADCA 
has also promoted voluntary drug "take-back" events that encourage 
people to bring their unused pharmaceuticals to a central location for 

It's important to keep in mind, however, that industry groups haven't 
opposed any of these measures. But they do oppose those restrictions 
that could eat into the industry's profits. In 2012, for example, a 
group of doctors and drug-prevention advocates petitioned the Food and 
Drug Administration to change the prescription labeling of opioids so 
that they could be prescribed only for "severe pain," rather than the 
"moderate to severe pain" stipulated under the current guidelines. 
Purdue Pharma opposed the plan, calling on the FDA to "maintain that the 
current indications for long-acting opioids are appropriate." According 
to advocates who spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity, the 
Partnership refused to join the push for new prescription guidelines. 
CADCA didn't sign on either.

CADCA and the Partnership have also failed to call for action on current 
bills in Congress to crack down aggressively on painkillers, including 
the Stop Oxy Abuse Act, which would-in keeping with the suggestion of 
the doctors' advocates who petitioned the FDA-allow OxyContin to be 
prescribed only for severe pain. The two anti-drug groups have not 
signed on to support the Safe Prescribing Act, which would move 
hydrocodone products like Vicodin and Lortab from Schedule III to 
Schedule II, making the product more difficult to prescribe. Nor, for 
that matter, have they endorsed any of the bills introduced by 
Representative Hal Rogers or Senator Joe Manchin to block the approval 
of new, stronger pain-killer drugs such as Zohydro.

"I think it's hypocritical to remain silent with regard to the 
scheduling of hydrocodone products, while investing energy in 
maintaining marijuana as a Schedule I drug," says Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a 
New York psychiatrist who heads Physicians for Responsible Opioid 
Prescribing. Kolodny notes that there are legitimate concerns regarding 
marijuana legalization, particularly how the drug may be marketed and 
its effect on adolescents, so "I don't think it's inappropriate for them 
to be advocating on marijuana.

"But," he adds, "when we have a severe epidemic in America-one the CDC 
says is the worst drug epidemic in US history-it makes you wonder 
whether or not they've been influenced by their funding."

In some cases, both CADCA and the Partnership have directly promoted 
certain opioids. In 2010, Marcia Lee Taylor, the Partnership's chief 
lobbyist, signed on to a letter with Will Rowe of the American Pain 
Foundation asking the Office of National Drug Control Policy to continue 
Medicaid reimbursements for so-called "tamper-proof" opioids, which 
cannot be crushed or snorted but can still be abused to deadly effect. 
(The American Pain Foundation has since shut down, following an 
investigation by ProPublica showing that the group relied heavily on 
money from opioid manufacturers and played "down the risks associated 
with.painkillers while exaggerating the benefits.") In 2012, CADCA 
joined with Purdue Pharma and other opioid makers in signing a similar 
letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Prescription-drug manufacturers like Purdue Pharma, which made more than 
$27 billion in revenues from OxyContin alone since 1996, have faced 
ethical problems in the past. In 2007, Purdue Pharma and its top 
executives paid $634.5 million in fines for deceptive marketing that 
played down the addictive properties of OxyContin. Also that same year, 
the company agreed to pay $19.5 million to twenty-six states and the 
District of Columbia to settle claims that it illegally encouraged 
doctors to overprescribe the drug. But the company's influence over 
anti-drug advocacy is less known.

Erik Altieri, a spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform 
of Marijuana Laws, argues that marijuana can provide a "great 
alternative for treating chronic pain and other types of ailments." 
Pharmaceutical companies "don't want to see another vendor on the market."

In a written response to queries, retired general Arthur Dean, CADCA's 
chair and CEO, said: "The funding CADCA receives in no way impacts 
CADCA's policy efforts or strategic direction. Prescription drugs are 
legal medicines that serve a legitimate and often life-saving purpose in 
our society. CADCA has utilized some discretionary grants from industry 
sources, such as Purdue Pharma and several other companies, to develop 
programs and tools to help community coalitions prevent and reduce youth 
prescription drug abuse and the abuse of over-the-counter cough 
medicine." Asked about current proposals in Congress to rein in the way 
painkillers are prescribed, Dean replied: "CADCA has not taken a 
position on the proposed legislations."

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids did not respond to a request for 
comment. Neither did Purdue Pharma and other opioid makers, including 
Abbott Laboratories, Pfizer and Alkermes. A spokesperson with Janssen 
told The Nation that the company funds CADCA to support "educational 
programs about the safe and responsible use of pain medicines."

In May, CADCA sent out an action alert to its members, asking them to 
contact Congress and oppose an amendment in the House of Representatives 
that would block the DEA from targeting medical marijuana operations 
that are legal under state law. The measure passed later that month with 
bipartisan support.

Patrick Kennedy's Project Sam is arguably the most visible group 
opposing marijuana-law reform, with the former congressman making the 
rounds on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher and Comedy Central's The 
Colbert Report, among other cable and news programs. And yet this group, 
too, is rife with potential conflicts of interest.

Some legalization advocates have criticized Kennedy's crusade against 
pot. Though the former congressman received many second chances in his 
struggle with alcohol and prescription drugs, he has opposed any move 
toward marijuana decriminalization that would afford similar leniency to 
others. After Project SAM began organizing opposition to Alaska's 
legalization initiative this year, demonstrators in Anchorage paraded a 
giant check with the figure $9,015-the amount in campaign money that 
Kennedy received from the liquor and beer lobby while in office. Critics 
have also pointed out that Project SAM's board and partners represent 
many of the interest groups that stand to profit from marijuana's 
continued prohibition.

"Some of the folks active with Project SAM appear to have a financial 
interest in keeping marijuana illegal and promoting mandatory treatment 
for adult consumers," says Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana 
Policy Project in Colorado. For example, Ben Cort, Project SAM's 
spokesman, leads a drug-treatment program in Aurora, Colorado.

Tvert points out that marijuana convictions often result in 
court-ordered rehab, which can provide an obvious incentive for 
treatment centers to oppose reform. In filings with the Securities and 
Exchange Commission, the Geo Group-a company that manages several 
for-profit treatment and detention centers-states that "any changes with 
respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances 
could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and 
incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional 
facilities to house them." In short, marijuana-law reform can cut into 

Dr. Stuart Gitlow, president of the American Society of Addiction 
Medicine, sits on Project SAM's board of directors and frequently speaks 
out against medical marijuana. In comments to USA Today in January, 
Gitlow disputed President Obama's comment that marijuana is no more 
dangerous than alcohol. "There's no benefit to marijuana," he said. 
"It's simply that people want the freedom to be stoned. That's all it 
is. And there's a great deal of risk."

What the USA Today piece didn't mention-and what Gitlow hasn't disclosed 
during his appearances on HLN TV, Southern California Public Radio and 
other local media-is that he serves as the medical director for Orexo, a 
pharmaceutical company that recently produced a new drug called Zubsolv. 
The product is an opioid substitute along the lines of Suboxone that, 
while designed to treat opioid addiction, is often abused for 
recreational purposes. As The New York Times reported, Suboxone has been 
linked to more than 400 deaths in the United States since 2003.

Last December, Dr. Mark Willenbring, former director of treatment and 
recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and 
Alcoholism, raised concerns about Gitlow's leadership of the American 
Society of Addiction Medicine, given his relationship with Orexo. "My 
concern is with the increasing public perception, especially in 
psychiatry and addiction treatment, that financial interests taint and 
discredit professional opinions," Willenbring told the Alcoholism & Drug 
Abuse Weekly.

Peter Bensinger, a former DEA administrator, and Robert DuPont, a former 
White House drug czar, now manage a consulting firm that specializes in 
workplace drug testing. The two work closely with Project SAM and have 
spoken at events with its leaders. Last year, for example, Bensinger and 
DuPont signed on to a Project SAM letter pressing the Justice Department 
to reconsider its decision to defer the enforcement of federal drug laws 
in states that have legalized marijuana. For that stance, they've come 
under fire from marijuana-law reformers like Howard Wooldridge of 
Citizens Opposing Prohibition for promoting "policies that line their 

Marijuana-law reform has created deep divisions within police agencies. 
A recent poll of officers found that nearly two-thirds believed 
marijuana laws should be reformed-with 36 percent agreeing that 
marijuana should be legalized, regulated and taxed; 14 percent 
supporting relaxed penalties; 11 percent supporting legalized medical 
marijuana; and 4 percent supporting decriminalization.

Yet strong institutional forces have kept nearly every law enforcement 
professional association opposed to reform. Starting with the Reagan 
administration, police departments were encouraged to seize and sell 
property associated with drug busts, which significantly augmented their 
revenue. Between 2002 and 2012, law enforcement agencies collected about 
$1 billion from marijuana arrests, according to Justice Department data.

It was also during the 1980s that federal grant programs requiring 
police to engage in drug enforcement were expanded, including the Edward 
Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Program, which funds 
multijurisdictional drug task forces. The Byrne grants, which cover a 
range of drug enforcement actions including marijuana, provided over 
$2.4 billion for law enforcement agencies this fiscal year.

"It's money," says retired Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief 
Stephen Downing, when asked why so many police organizations are 
lobbying against marijuana-law reform. "In many states, the city 
government expects police to make seizures, and they expect these 
seizures to supplement their budgets." According to The Wall Street 
Journal, drug task forces in Washington State have predicted that 
asset-forfeiture revenues will decrease as a result of marijuana 

Others dispute the notion. Bob Cooke, a former president of the 
California Narcotic Officers' Association, asserts that "losing money 
from asset forfeiture is not why we believe [pot] should be regulated." 
Instead, he argues, law enforcement agencies oppose legalizing marijuana 
because its use is inherently dangerous: "One try and it can ruin your 

But the fiscal impact on law enforcement has become part of the debate. 
Earlier this year, when Minnesota State Representative Carly Melin 
proposed a medical marijuana bill, she faced a backlash from police 
lobbyists. "There was a concern about losing federal grants tied to drug 
enforcement laws," Melin says. "Asset forfeiture was briefly discussed 
as well." She adds that law enforcement agencies approached her bill 
with "absolute opposition" but changed their position after widespread 
public pressure. Melin's bill passed in May once patients and the 
parents of sick children began contacting lawmakers.

"It's not hard to figure out that there's a lot of money attached to 
enforcing marijuana laws," Melin says. "Marijuana arrests still account 
for over 60 percent of drug arrests in Minnesota, so it's still big 
business for law enforcement." Minnesota's numbers reflect the data 
compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, which show that 
marijuana arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests nationwide.

Similar dynamics have played out elsewhere. When Californians debated a 
legalization initiative in 2010-which was ultimately unsuccessful-the 
lead organizer of the opposition was John Lovell, a longtime police 
lobbyist in Sacramento. Lovell has made a career of channeling federal 
"drug war" grants to law enforcement agencies in the state-including 
millions of dollars for the California Marijuana Suppression Program, 
grants for overtime pay for police, and money for additional officers 
dedicated to marijuana eradication.

In Florida, the state sheriffs' association, led by Polk County Sheriff 
Grady Judd, has become the public face of opposition to a medical 
marijuana referendum on the ballot this fall. Judd has deployed a number 
of arguments against the referendum, from the dangers of driving while 
high to increased workers' compensation claims, to teenage addiction and 
increased respiratory illnesses.

But the annual strategic plan submitted to the Polk County Board of 
Commissioners by Judd's office suggests another major concern. In it, 
Judd says that his force is "doing more with fewer resources" and that 
he's had to cut seventeen deputy sheriff positions due to a lack of 
funds. Judd describes seizures from marijuana grow houses as a key 
revenue source for his department: seizing such property helps to "meet 
eligible equipment or other non-recurring needs that could not be met by 
local funding, thereby putting forfeited and unclaimed funds to work in 
crime prevention, for the taxpayer," according to the document. Plus a 
Florida law enforcement newsletter describes the state's marijuana 
eradication program-which brought in nearly $900,000 last year in 
forfeitures, and more than $1 million in previous years-as "an excellent 
return on investment."

Downing, the retired LAPD deputy chief, notes: "The only difference now 
compared to the times of alcohol prohibition is that, in the times of 
alcohol prohibition, law enforcement-the police and judges-got their 
money in brown paper bags. Today, they get their money through 
legitimate, systematic programs run by the federal government. That's 
why they're using their lobbying organizations to fight every reform."

Indeed, alcohol prohibition was ended partly through ethics reform. 
During Prohibition, the Eighteenth Amendment was enforced through a law 
called the Volstead Act, which exempted federal liquor enforcement 
agents from Progressive-era civil service exams. Without these exams, 
the Prohibition Unit became a vehicle for awarding patronage jobs to 
political allies. Almost immediately, these 18,000 federal jobs were 
marked by scandal and corruption. According to one Treasury agent, the 
"most extraordinary collection of political hacks, hangers-on, and 
passing highwaymen got appointed as prohibition agents." They set up 
illegal roadblocks, killed innocent civilians, and extorted money from 
bootleggers rather than arresting them. The wet lobby successfully 
pushed to re-establish civil service exams for the Prohibition Unit in 
the late 1920s-a shift that embarrassed dry-lobby supporters, because 
nearly two-thirds of all agents couldn't pass the entrance exam. Further 
weakening support for Prohibition, the Supreme Court declared it illegal 
in 1927 for local judges to pay themselves with a share of the fines 
collected from Volstead Act cases.

While not a perfect analogy, some marijuana advocates see the fight 
against Prohibition as a guide, since so many interest groups working to 
maintain the status quo today are tied to cash flows-whether federal 
grants or forfeiture revenues-that depend on keeping the drug illegal.

Prohibition provides "an incentive for these interest groups to keep 
seeking federal money to continue the `war on drugs' [and] their own 
salaries," says Representative Steve Cohen, one of the most outspoken 
proponents of legalization in Congress. Cohen adds that some of the most 
vociferous opponents of reform appear to be influenced by the money 
flowing from pot prohibition. "It's a vicious cycle."
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