Our nation’s marijuana laws are being held hostage by a prohibition industrial complex.
The latest Wall St. Journal/NBC poll shows, yet again, that the majority of Americans support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 and over. But despite this surge in support (several other national polls have seen similar results), there are a few well financed, politically powerful groups that remain staunchly against reform – and will likely serve as the biggest hinderance to widespread change. These folks have made a lot of money off of marijuana’s current legal status, and those individuals (as well as their businesses/shareholders) are deeply invested in making sure things stay the way they are. The wide range of direct and auxiliary enforcement mechanisms, as well as the increase in drug testing laws are driven by companies and businesses who provide the services necessary to support this disastrous and wasteful policy.
One such industry that has a financial interest in maintaining the status quo is law enforcement, especially drug officers and private prisons. Drug officers benefit from forfeiture and federal grants. Private prisons keep their jails full and multi-million dollar state contracts in place. The Office of National Drug Control Policy requested $9.4 billion in funding for 2013, the majority of which went to enforcement and incarceration. More specifically, California police – one of the most vocal opponents to legalization in the state made $181.4 million by seizing and selling the homes and cars of Californians involved in marijuana cases from 2002 to 2012. Police in Washington are already taking budget hits as a result of the passage of I-502, the state’s marijuana legalization initiative that passed in 2012. It was reported that some police drug task forces lost 15 percent of funding due to decreased revenue from marijuana forfeiture cases. On a national level, marijuana cases netted $1 billion in assets forfeited between 2002 and 2012. Assets can be seized under federal or state law, depending on the situation. The Wall St. Journal recently reported that marijuana law reform would cut into a significant percentage of drug task forces’ revenue. Most cash generated from drug-related property forfeitures goes to the law enforcement agency that made the bust. The Journal reports that “Nationally, assets forfeited in marijuana cases from 2002 through 2012 accounted for $1 billion of the $6.5 billion from all drug busts.” Task forces also rely heavily on federal grants.
One example of a federal grant relied heavily upon by drug task forces is Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. The amount of money distributed is based on the number of drug arrests made for that year, among other components. The more drug arrests made, the more grant money provided, and 50% of all drug arrests are marijuana related. No drug will be able to fill the void of marijuana arrests. Marijuana is easier to spot and smell, and is consumed by more people than any other illegal drug, making marijuana arrest rates a significant percentage of overall revenue. Then you have state contracts with private prisons, which mandate that facilities be filled at 90% capacity at all times. If 50% inmates are there as a result of drug-related crimes, and half of that is for marijuana – legalization would be a serious threat to new contracts and increased profits.
Another industry tied into the prohibition industrial complex is the drug testing market. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry with its own, built in legislative advocacy machine. Take DATIA , the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association for example. This industry organization represents more than 1,200 companies and employs a DC-based lobbying firm, Washington Policy Associates. Their mission statement includes, among other things, creating “new opportunities for the drug testing industry.”
In 2002, a representative from the influential drug-testing management firm Besinger, DuPont & Associates (Robert DuPont, Nixon’s first drug czar is a high profile opponent to legalization) heralded schools as “potentially a much bigger market than the workplace.” Workplace drug testing is a declining market due to the fact that employees see minimal return on investment. In fact, a DATIA newsletter dubbed school children “the next frontier.” Unsurprisingly, this industry advocates testing in all grades and for all extracurricular activities. It should be noted that several reports have concluded that drug testing minors is not only ineffective but can be emotionally and psychologically damaging. Lucky, many schools have been reluctant to embrace testing.
Year after year, the drug testing industry gears up for another legislative push, ghostwriting bills for local and national lawmakers demanding testing for people who receive public assistance. Many of these elected officials are either financially investment in these companies, or received significant financial contributions from industry organizations. For example, in February 2012, Congress amended federal rules to allow states to drug-test select unemployment applicants. Among the lawmakers advocating for the change was Congressman Dave Camp, who owns at least $81,000 in assets in companies that are major players in the drug-testing industry, such as LabCorp and Abbott Laboratories. He has also received $5,000 in federal campaign contributions from LabCorp over the past three years. Abbott Laboratories spent $133,500 on campaign donations to Ohio and Texas state politician promoting drug testing to welfare recipients, in the lead-up to the 2010 and 2012 elections, in addition to more than $500,000 spent by the company on state lobbying contracts since 2010.
The industry is once again flexing its political arm pushing for policies that mandate drug testing for welfare recipients. Legislation has already been introduced in Virginia, New York, Arizona, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, for the 2014 legislative session.
Two of the most outspoken opponents of marijuana legalization are David Evans and Robert DuPont. DuPont, Founder of Besinger, DuPont & Associates served as the nation’s first drug policy director under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. During that time he had advocated decriminalizing marijuana and its use a “minor problem.” Once he left public office however, he became a “drug-testing management” consultant. David Evans worked for Hoffmann-La Roche, a multi-billion dollar drug testing group encouraging workplace drug testing policies. He now runs his own lobby firm and has ghostwritten several state laws to expand drug testing. Drug testing overall detects marijuana more than any other drug, which stays in the body for up to a month — as opposed to other harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, which are metabolized within one to three days. That is why they have such significant stake in keeping the plant illegal.
The total income for all of these industries combined adds up to hundreds of billions of dollars annually, a significant amount derived from taxpayer dollars. An industrial complex is when there is a policy and monetary relationship between legislators, the public sector and an industrial base that supports them. Just like the military industrial complex, the prohibition industrial complex, and its cycle of laws, enforcement and contracts will pose a major challenge to reform efforts. This will be especially true in states that don’t have ballot initiatives, which is why it is so important for everyone to get active on a local level, and hold lawmakers accountable. Though difficult, this will not be an impossible challenge to overcome, as long as we remain diligent and active in the political process.