Big Pharma or Big Tobacco: Are They Coming for Us?
Researchers compare the ethical problems of recreational bill proposals to Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol.
Published on February 12, 2016

The tobacco and alcohol industries frequently undermine the most basic of health standards. Socially-acceptable cancer sticks and alcohol are all good, despite the public health hazards they create. A new report indicates that recent ballot proposals would unleash a profit-driven industry that resembles big tobacco and big alcohol. Are we better than this?

The study was written by Rachel Barry and Stanton Glantz and was conducted at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy.

“The goal is to legalize it so that nobody gets thrown in jail, but create a legal product that nobody wants,” Glantz said.“I think a corporate takeover of the market ... is very, very hard to stop... They are already a potent lobbyist in California.”

With legalization around the corner, all of the time-tested ethical standards that veteran stoners consider sacred are on the line. Heirloom strains and high-quality craft products could soon be replaced with homogenized, pre-packaged garbage.

ResponsibleOhio's embarrassing campaign was focused on monopolizing the cannabis industry without much thought about public health standards. “Evidence from tobacco and alcohol control demonstrates that without a strong public health framework, a wealthy and politically powerful marijuana industry will develop and use its political clout to manipulate regulatory frameworks and thwart public health efforts to reduce use and profits,” the researchers wrote.

Product-linked deaths have always been generally overlooked by the tobacco and alcohol industries. A recent study published in the Lancet compared 20 of the world's most popular drugs and the danger associated with them. According to the study, alcohol is the world's number one most deadliest drug. Tobacco came in at sixth place, causing more deaths than amphetamines, ketamine, ecstasy and LSD.

"Since at least the 1970s, tobacco companies have been interested in marijuana and marijuana legalization as both a potential and a rival product," researchers Rachel Ann Barry, Heikki Hiilamo and Stanton Glantz wrote. "As public opinion shifted and governments began relaxing laws pertaining to marijuana criminalization, the tobacco companies modified their corporate planning strategies to prepare for future consumer demand.” Cannabis packages are resembling cigarette packs more and more. "Legalizing marijuana opens the market to major corporations, including tobacco companies, which have the financial resources, product design technology to optimize puff-by-puff delivery of a psychoactive drug (nicotine), marketing muscle, and political clout to transform the marijuana market," the authors wrote.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the legalization campaign, says the report is misleading and false. “This report inexplicably chooses to ignore the extensive public health protections and mandate included in our measure – as well as the child safeguards, the small-business and anti-monopoly provisions and the unprecedented investments in youth prevention, education and treatment,” Kinney said. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, for instance, includes extensive anti-monopoly language and prohibits Walmart-sized cannabis businesses from operating for five years.

Are the ethical problems surrounding the Adult Use of Marijuana act enough to reject the measure altogether? “I am thinking more in 20 years what the industry will evolve into, not five years,” Barry said. “And that’s something we should be doing with the regulations.”

Benjamin M. Adams
Benjamin Adams is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a slew of publications including CULTURE, Cannabis Now Magazine, and Vice. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenBot11
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