One incredibly effective method for garnering support against a cause is to attack the science and facts supporting it, even if it is a virtual certainty that you’d be fighting a losing battle. It’s an old but potent tactic that has been used in several different industries over the past several decades, and now marijuana is the new target.
According to an article from from Vice, this is precisely what’s happening to the incubating cannabis industry, despite the fact that marijuana has only been legalized for recreational use in two states, with two more more waiting in the wings (along with the curious case of D.C.), and a number of others for medicinal purposes. It’s been well-known for a while that there are several groups with vested interests in keeping marijuana prohibition intact, including prison guard unions, law enforcement agencies, private prison companies, and even tobacco and alcohol conglomerates. But the group Vice focuses on is the painkiller industry.
At first thought, you might suspect that pharmaceutical companies would be ecstatic about marijuana prohibition finally coming to an end, as it could possibly supply them with a relatively cheap and valuable new resource to study and commercialize. But as with any entrenched special-interest group, they instead view it as a threat to profits.
Thus, instead of embracing the end of prohibition, many companies have decided to pay academics, as a sort of pro-industry group of mercenaries, to develop research that instead leads to the conclusion that marijuana is a health hazard and should remain outlawed. Vice cites the claims of Dr. Herbert Kleber of Columbia University, who has published work and has also been quoted as saying that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’, is addictive, and will end up harming society on a large scale.
While those statements may in fact reflect the genuine concerns of many people, it may not in fact be a genuine concern of scientists and doctors. Kleber, it turns out, is a paid consultant to several large pharmaceutical companies that manufacture painkillers, which could lose their appeal if marijuana is adopted en masse in coming years. After all, why would an ill individual opt to medicate using addictive, expensive and dangerous prescription medications when they can get the same, if not superior relief from cannabis-derived products?
Long-term marijuana use does most likely pose some health risks. Smoking — no matter what the substance — isn’t good for your health, and there is plenty of research to be done focused on the long-term effects of cannabis use, particularly in young adults and teenagers. But even with those concerns in mind, marijuana use is not even remotely close in terms of danger and damage to products like cigarettes, alcohol and even prescription painkillers — all of which have been linked to thousands, if not millions of deaths per year.
Marijuana has still yet to kill anyone, although it could potentially play a factor in things like auto accidents.
But deaths from overdoses? Those hard, if not impossible, to find.
The truth is that the ploy being used by these painkiller manufacturers is not a new one. We saw the same strategy employed by cigarette and tobacco companies during the 1960s and ’70s, with claims that their products were harmless, when they are, in fact, one of the most dangerous products available. We’re seeing it today in the climate change debate, in which an overwhelming majority of scientists have come to the conclusion that man-made climate change is a serious problem. Yet, there are still a handful of outliers (many of whom on the payroll of large, entrenched energy corporations) who feel otherwise.
Perhaps the most important question of all regarding these paid academics is relative to the concerns they’re espousing in the first place. For those opposing marijuana legalization, the arguments are usually centered around health concerns and public safety. Yet, we already have far more dangerous products available on the market (cigarettes, beer, etc.), which actually do lead to increased instances of violence and crime, and nobody is calling for those items to be outlawed.
So why would they have a problem with marijuana?
Again, there are people who genuinely hold these concerns. But it has to be understood that the ties these paid academics hold to these companies can compromise their opinion in many aspects, especially in the eyes of the public who are looking to them for guidance. The truth is, we need to take what the paid ‘experts’ are saying with a grain of salt. This is the same tactic we’ve seen the energy and cigarette industries use over the years, and until some concrete evidence surfaces that marijuana is indeed a public threat, there’s really no reason to think we need to wade back into the prohibition years.
After all, do we really want to keep putting people in jail to bolster the profits of pharmaceutical companies, private prison organizations, and prison guard unions? Because those are really the only thing outlawing marijuana is protecting — not so much the general public from outbreaks of violence and crime.