In 2016, the Center for Public Integrity wrote about the pharmaceutical industry and opiate policies across the United States. In the article, it was stated that the pharmaceutical lobby spent over $880 million on lobbying state legislatures and Congress to make sure that the policies set by states were not too restrictive on opiates, a very profitable medicine. They employed an army of lobbyists, around 1350 lobbyists per year, in states to make sure that policies did not hamper the industry too much. In addition, the opioid industry contributed to nearly 7,100 public office candidates across the country and this was all being done while individuals were dying of overdose and misuse in record numbers. In Ohio, this number is especially high, with 3,050 people dying from overdose in 2015 alone and the numbers for 2016 are predicted to be much higher. In the meantime, advocates were able to spend a little over $4 million for tighter controls. Needless to say, the devastation from opiates to communities skyrocketed and now states are trying to figure out how to turn things back.
Earlier this week, another report was issued by a group in Georgia called the National Families in Action. This report, titled, Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters, shows that those who finance the marijuana industry, primarily billionaires George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling, have spent $145 million on legalization campaigns since 2010 and have been quite successful. In that same time frame, those who want to protect public health and defeat these policies have raised $34 million. The staggering difference in money is the key to why they have been so successful.
These past two weeks, I have met with a number of states who are contemplating marijuana legalization and it has been increasingly troubling to me as I meet with leadership from those General Assemblies. The questions are not about public health or public safety but have steered more toward revenue for the state. The responses they want are not how marijuana (or drugs in general) impact communities and families. The conversation is not about mental health wellness or creating safe environments. It comes down to questions about revenue and costs. Although the revenues for legalization are easy to determine because of entire Departments of Revenue tracking those, the costs of legalization are not as easily available and no one seems to be tracking those well.
I have to state that in the Colorado Governor’s budget proposal, he admits that schools are not getting tax monies from legalization, as he has asked for $16 million additional dollars for schools. The Colorado Governor has also asked for a little over $16 million for funding for homelessness, much of it brought on by legalization. There are other needed increases for law enforcement, black market eradication and healthcare, and we are working on compiling those numbers.
The bottom line is this – when we advocate, when we talk to policy leaders, we must talk in numbers because in many minds in power, health has a price. Make sure that when you advocate you not only measure your work in human costs, but financial costs as well. It’s what is driving the public health discussion.
Drug Free Action Alliance Legislative Update March 17, 2017