By Terry Gotham
As part of my efforts to get the word out about the problems drug users currently face, I’ve presented at a number of academic conferences across North America. Whenever I’m in a state with more liberal drug laws than the one I currently reside in, I always like to examine it both as a consumer & a policy advocate. In Vancouver, while I was being pitched the differences between different sativa infused energy drinks & indica infused lip balm when it hit me. We’re not in Kansas anymore ladies and gentlemen, the future of drug marketing is now.
While the majority of the USA is still screwing around, debating morality & incarcerating minorities for fun and profit, several states and British Columbia have seen what many moralizing policymakers claimed could never happen. The proliferation of cannabis products post-decriminalization & legalization is proof that recreational drug users are not skittering crackheads, but in fact discerning consumers who, if given the option, can make smart choices about their consumption and habits.
For over a century, we’ve been told that cannabis, cocaine, opiates & amphetamines turn citizens into unhinged, violent criminals. With the recent admission of bald-faced lies by the Nixon administration & the well-documented xenophobia and racism on the part of Hearst and Anslinger, we’re at a crucial juncture in the continuing failure known as the War on Drugs. While many advocates spar over referendums and fundraisers, in CA, WA, OR, CO & British Columbia, the discussion has moved from academia to market economics.
We’re at a place where cannabis is being evaluated as not just one potential product, but hundreds. I think that’s a really important step being taken when it comes to the maturation of the use. The idea that you’d be able to get multiple kinds of cannabis and edibles during the 80’s, 90’s & 2000s was laughable for anyone who didn’t live in Humboldt county or work in San Francisco. Even the simple choice of sativa or indica was largely impossible for most recreational users. You bought whatever your pot dealer had, and if you didn’t like it, tough. The delivery services in coastal cities provided more options, you were overcharged massively, and if you didn’t like it, also tough.
Only in the last couple of years has it pivoted from a sellers to a buyer’s market. There are rumors going around advocacy circles in Denver & Seattle that the dealers that still sell cannabis illegally are late less, have more strains available and making less profit bit to compete with the legal market. Just imagine that, market competition increases availability, lowers cost and results in better customer service.
More importantly, the maturation of the market is allowing users to purchase products that fulfill their exact needs. There are dozens of older cannabis users I know that simply refuse to smoke the stuff. They don’t like how it hurts their throat, they run marathons and they generally don’t like how it makes their house smell like they’re unemployed. You provide them with Rice Krispie treats, or the shockingly prolific lines of lip balm, tinctures, capsules, drinks, or oil to cook with, all of a sudden, you’ve got a pile of eager consumers.
The market segment of increasingly wealthy professionals who consume is not out there looking for bongs, rolling papers or shwag with pot leaves all over it. These people have specific ailments, like insomnia, neuropathy, muscle aches & pains, nausea & vomiting, or even low appetite. They aren’t looking to get high and watch The Matrix, they’re looking for pain relief from a knee injury without rolling the dice on becoming addicted to opiates. Even two years ago, states that had medical marijuana saw 25% fewer opiate overdose deaths. Those are real lives being saved, by giving consumers the choice to medicate in ways best for them.
I’m a huge fan of having these conversations in anticipation of policy change, but with cannabis, we’re seeing the market react before the policy makers & advocates can predict what the market will do. This has slowed the progress of legalization & decriminalization, especially in states with unsympathetic legislatures. Additionally, a number of organizations are actively preventing this conversation from being had.
Private prisons & police unions (somewhat unsurprisingly) strongly dispute the fact that cannabis is harmless, and should be legal for adult consumption. When states are being asked to guarantee that their prisons will remain 90% full, one of the easiest ways to do so is to keep cannabis illegal. Police unions are terrified that drug legalization will reduce their ability to press for new hires, wage increases and overtime pay, but they’re significantly less malevolent than companies like CCA & The Geo Group. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is a fantastic organization working to fight the stereotype that all cops are for the drug war.
But the big culprits, the real forces pushing this rock back down hill are alcohol, tobacco & pharmaceutical firms. VICE produced an explosive report documenting the extensive relationships between academics who produce anti-cannabis research and the pharmaceutical industry. For example, Dr. Herbert Kleber is a hugely influential figure in the NYS cannabis legalization debate, and is a paid consultant for Purdue Pharma, Reckitt Benckiser & Alkermes, all companies that produce prescription opiate pain medication. Of course, it’s not just oxy producers. Back in 2010, the day that Prop 19 (ballot measure to tax & regulate cannabis) was put on the ballot, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors made a $10,000 donation to oppose it.
No discussion of organizations funding anti-drug efforts is complete without mentioning the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Cynthia Cotts reported the Partnership was taking millions from RJ Reynolds, Anheuser-Busch & Phillip Morris way back in 1992. After further scrutiny, the Partnership For A Drug Free America stopped taking money from companies pushing booze & cigarettes, but still accepts donations from the pharmaceutical industry. That’s right, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, Du Pont, Hoffmann-LaRoche, and the Pfizer Foundation are still funding the “Don’t Do Drugs” ads, while slinging opiates to millions across the world.
There you have it folks. Progress is being made, despite the efforts of greedy lame people to keep it from happening. Our kids will one day look at the time when cannabis was illegal the same way we look at alcohol prohibition. Where we go from there is up to us. What do you think is the next step? Cocaine at Starbucks? Emotional testing for LSD licenses? MDMA sold at Electric Daisy Carnival? Joints sold at Center Camp at the same place I get my favorite mid-week chai? Let us know in the comments!