The battle for legal marijuana is now officially in full swing with 5 states primed to vote on legalization this November. But as with any war, victory is decided as much in the coffers as on the frontlines. That’s why it’s important for the people to know who is funding this battle on both sides of the divide. Perhaps it’s a cynical perspective but it’s difficult to view any lofty donations as selfless gestures. Rather, a certain scrutiny is owed to heavy donors begging the question “What have they to gain?” You can hold this magnifying glass up to marijuana advocates and prohibitionists alike.
The Heat is On in Arizona
The efforts to legalize cannabis in Arizona have been kicking up some pretty serious sandstorms as we approach the elections. Just this week, the Arizona chapter of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol blasted a rather ambitious campaign, highlighting how voting “yes” on Prop. 205 will directly lead to increased funding for Arizona’s public schools. A prestigious group of Arizona’s education officials even endorsed Prop. 205. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has mostly been relying on funding from Arizona’s active medical marijuana dispensaries though the Marijuana Policy Project contributed a generous $300,000 donation.
Big Pharma vs. Legal Marijuana
But it’s really the passion and vitriol of the opposition to legal marijuana in Arizona that has so many eyes on the Grand Canyon state. One of the biggest donors to anti-legalization efforts is Insys Therapeutics, Inc., a pharmaceutical company who really wants you to believe they give a shit about anything besides profits. They wasted no time pointing out the nobility of their donation, claiming they oppose Prop. 205 “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.” Seriously, guys, their opposition has nothing at all to do with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it section of their site that professes a “capability to develop pharmaceutical cannabinoids” (translation: synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice…the safe, legal, marijuana that has people attempting murder-suicides and gouging out their own eyes).
But to get an idea for how much Insys really cares about the safety of Arizona’s citizens, we only need look at the handling of their patented drug, Subsys; a fast-acting take on the potent painkiller fentanyl. If fentanyl sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because of its recent high profile spot as the drug on which Prince overdosed earlier this year. Insys really wants your doctor to prescribe you Subsys, even though it can kill you. In fact, two former Insys employees were recently sued by the federal government for allegedly working out a deal with doctors to prescribe Subsys and receive a sizeable kickback. But, yeah, we totally believe that Insys just wants to save people from the first marijuana overdose ever and that’s why they cut a check of $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy; an organization that uses outdated propaganda and unproven “facts” to fight legalization efforts. If there’s any universe where this is still too subtle, we’ll let an official filing from Insys themselves dispel any notion of selflessness:
“Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product candidate. … If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.”
And what is dronabinol, you ask? Oh, just a drug that Insys is developing that uses synthetic THC (remember the murder-suicides and eye-gouging?) to curb nausea from chemotherapy. So, basically the same thing medical marijuana can do for a patient only much, much worse. God bless you, Insys.
Insys even stole the thunder from Andy Kendrick, who initially held the title for the largest donor to anti-marijuana organizations in Arizona. You may have heard of her, since she’s married to the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. She’s donated upwards of $100,000 to keeping marijuana illegal which shows a fairly strong hatred for the herb though obviously only 1/5 as strong as Insys’ love of the almighty dollar.
In Memory of California’s Prop. 19
But, hey, we all knew the pharmaceutical companies were assholes; no surprises there. Honestly, the anti-marijuana sentiment doesn’t get much more astonishing when we turn our attention to California, where the alcohol industry did their damnedest to stop Prop. 19 in 2010. Of all the states voting on legal marijuana this year, California stands to have the most impact on potential federal legalization so it pays to look at the state’s 2010 failure to legalize marijuana. That year, California Beer and Beverage Distributors donated $10,000 to anti-legalization efforts. Taking the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach, the alcohol industry forged an unlikely alliance with the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotics Officers’ Association who donated $30,000 and $20,500 respectively. The Marijuana Policy Project’s director of government relations, Steve Fox, put it all in perspective by pointing out, “Members of law enforcement have argued against Proposition 19 by asserting, ‘We have enough problems with alcohol, we don’t need to add another intoxicating substance to the mix,’ implying that marijuana is just as bad as alcohol. But the truth is that a legal marijuana market would not add another dangerous intoxicant to the mix; rather it would provide adults with a less harmful legal alternative to alcohol.”
Hope for California’s Prop. 64
This time around, a lot of the anti-marijuana funding is coming from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group opposing legalization whose financial contributors are mostly politicians. That doesn’t mean the police groups are laying low. Donations from the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association and Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs State PAC reaffirm a general anti-legalization sentiment among the police. They’re joined by wealthy Pennsylvanian Julie Schauer who’s donated over $1.3 million just because she really hates weed.
Fortunately, all of these contributions are dwarfed by the strong pro-legalization movement in California. One of the most high profile contributors has been multi-millionaire Sean Parker, known as the original president of Facebook and co-founder of Napster. He’s contributed upwards of $2.5 million to legalization efforts in California, leading opponents back to that question “What’s he got to gain?” His representatives have dismissed claims that he’s banking on legalization for personal investments in the industry. But even if Parker does have some personal stake in legalization, it can’t be any worse than what Insys has planned in Arizona.
Then we have Weedmaps who obviously have a vested interest in Prop. 64 succeeding. Thus far, the online resource for dispensaries and 420-friendly doctors has donated approximately $1 million to ensuring Prop. 64 passes. It may come as no surprise that investor Nicholas Pritzker of Tao Capital Partners is also financially pushing for legal marijuana considering his brother is Joby Pritzker of the Marijuana Policy Project. Tao Capital Partners have interest in the MJ Freeway software that helps cannabusinesses manage stock and inventory.
Efforts for Legalization in Other States
While California and Arizona are seeing some of the most heated exchanges of financial warfare on the legalization front, the other states voting on legal marijuana have their own big spenders. Maine has some colorful backers of cannabis legalization including the man behind the Adam & Eve sex toy catalogue, Philip Harvey, and renowned travel host and writer Rick Steves. In Massachusetts, the cousin of former U.S. president George W. Bush surprisingly contributed $10,000 to legalization efforts with a representative stating, “He believes this is one of many freedoms Americans should have the right to.” By contrast, former hockey legend Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins lobbed $1,000 into anti-marijuana coffers with the alcohol industry contributing $25,000 to keeping weed illegal in Massachusetts. Nevada has actually managed to keep a lid on high profile donors for the most part (perhaps a bit of that “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” attitude) but we can imagine strong parallels to what we’re seeing in the other 4 states voting on recreational marijuana legalization.
Of course, you don’t have to be a millionaire or corporation to donate to the cause that suits your interest but having an extra million lying around certainly helps. Inevitably, this spending can sway an election by producing the funding necessary to project mass media into the public consciousness. Whether right or wrong, this is the American way. But there’s still power in the vote so don’t even consider skipping the polls this year. Will we see legal marijuana for recreational use in these 5 states this year? Obviously, the jury’s still out but early forecasts show at least a few major victories.