Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

Ducey Uses ‘Reefer Madness’ Scare Tactics to Fight Marijuana Legalization (video)

marijuanaGovernor Doug Ducey and a representative from a big-pharma-funded PAC snuck into midtown Tucson this week to give business people a one-sided argument on why they should band together to stop Prop 205, the marijuana legalization initiative that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot in Arizona.

Today’s Arizona Daily Star attributes so many misconceptions about marijuana to Ducey and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk (of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy) that I’m not sure where to begin. I’ll take them one by one– after the jump.

First, let’s look at the scientific and public health reasons for legalization and for easier access to marijuana for the general adult population. New research on the medical uses of marijuana are being released every day. 

Medical Marijuana Reduces Medicare Prescriptions and Costs

A July 2016 study published in Health Affairs showed an overall drop in prescription drug use among Medicare patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The 17 states that have medical marijuana also saved $165.2 million in Medicare costs because patients switched to pot.  The research group concluded that if medical marijuana were legal nationwide, the US could see a $468 million decrease in Medicare prescription costs.

Researchers looked at several conditions for which marijuana could be substituted— like anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity, and found prescription drug use declines in many categories.  The biggest decrease in prescriptions was for opioid painkillers. (It’s no wonder that fentanyl-maker Insys is bankrolling the anti-legalization efforts in Arizona.)

“The availability of medical marijuana has a significant effect on prescribing patterns and spending in Medicare Part D,” according to Health Affairs.

Opioid Overdose Death and Marijuana Use

In October 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a Harvard study that revealed states with medical cannabis had a 25% lower overdose mortality rate from opioid prescription drugs when compared with states where marijuana is illegal, and the longer states had medical pot, the greater the decrease in death from prescription drugs. Arizona has an opioid overdose problem– not a marijuana problem. If pain patients can use marijuana to control their pain, lives will be saved.

Opioid Use, Medical Marijuana, and Fatal Car Crashes

In July 2016, the American Public Health Association (APHA) published an article that revealed a decrease in opioid use in fatal car accidents in states with medical marijuana.

The APHA authors were quoted in Common Dreams. (Note the mention of Arizona and the big pharma donor bankrolling the anti-legalization group.)

“We would expect the adverse consequences of opioid use to decrease over time in states where medical marijuana use is legal, as individuals substitute marijuana for opioids in the treatment of severe or chronic pain,” explained lead author June H. Kim, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

While not the first study to suggest that legalizing marijuana may be a solution to combat the national opioid abuse crisis, the report comes after it was revealed that in Arizona the company behind the fentanyl-based medication Subsys has been pouring money into an anti-legalization campaign in an apparent bid to “eliminate the competition.”

The pharmaceutical company is currently facing multiple investigations for encouraging doctors to prescribe Subsys, a fast-acting and highly-addictive drug intended to alleviate cancer pain, for off-label uses. The manufacturer, Insys, is also currently developing a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, to treat cancer-related nausea and vomiting.

“It’s not the first time pharmaceutical companies have helped bankroll the opposition to marijuana reform,” noted journalist Lee Fang. “The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, a nonprofit that organizes anti-marijuana activism across the country, has long received corporate sponsorship from Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, another opioid manufacturer.”

Fang also revealed this week that major alcohol industry groups, also seemingly concerned about the competition, have made significant contributions to anti-pot legalization efforts in Massachusetts and Arizona. [Emphasis added.]

Marijuana Use and Car Crash Risk Is ‘Greatly Exaggerated’  

Ducey and other marijuana prohibitionists claim that our streets will be less safe with hoards of stoned drivers on the roads. Research in Colorado and Washington state where marijuana has been legal for four years does not support this claim. In fact, as noted below, driving drunk with a blood alcohol level of 0.10% increases your risk of a car accident by 500%, while driving stoned may increase your risk by 20-30%.

From Common Dreams

Reporters and anti-pot activists commonly warn that marijuana use doubles the risk of a car crash. Even if that were true, toking would pale in comparison to drinking as a road hazard, since research indicates that a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10% quintuples the risk of an accident. But according to an analysis that’s about to be published by the journal Addiction, the increase in crash risk associated with marijuana use is roughly 20% to 30%, as opposed to the widely cited estimate of 92%.”

Daily Marijuana Use and Pre-Diabetes

In May 2013 and again in Nov 2015, the American Journal of Medicine (AJM), published research studies showing a positive benefit of daily marijuana use for people who are at risk for metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes). Daily marijuana use helped people maintain a lower waist circumference and helped them control other symptoms of pre-diabetes. According to AJM,  “Among emerging adults [18-25 years old], current marijuana users were 54% less likely than never users to present with metabolic syndrome.” In both studies, current and past marijuana users of any age were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome that never users. Millions of Americans have diabetes and pre-diabetes. If daily marijuana use can help prevent the development of diabetes, this would be a huge public health benefit and healthcare cost savings.

We need more research not more arrests.

It is absurd that research shows medical uses for marijuana, but the government still classifies it as one of the most dangerous drugs– Schedule 1– when it should be classified as a medicinal plant. Yes, Arizona and many other states have medical marijuana, but that doesn’t solve access problems for many patients. Medical marijuana cards are expensive and complicated to obtain.

Debunking Ducey

Sentences in bold italics are points attributed to Ducey or Polk in the Star article.

It will bring in relatively little revenue for education after expenses.

With Prop 123, Ducey and his gang orchestrated a bad deal to underfund education, and he wants to keep it that way. His goal is to break the public education system and throw education to private business. Conservative estimates show Prop 205 will provide $30 million to schools. $30 million is better than $0, right? If Ducey wants more funding for education, he should eliminate the $4 billion/year our state is wasting on corporate tax cuts.

It strips control from cities and towns to regulate marijuana-related businesses.

Isn’t there already too much government regulation of business, according to Ducey and the GOP? Marijuana growers and dispensaries suffer from over-regulation, in my opinion. (Reality check: We’re talking about a plant that never killed anyone– a plant that was sold in oil form as medicine in the early 1900s.) Tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs kill more people than marijuana. Tobacco, alone, kills more people worldwide than everything else combined!

If you want to protect citizens from the evils of drugs, focus on the drugs that are killing and addicting our citizens; filling our prisons with addicts, small-time users, and the mentally ill; and fostering crime. Policing marijuana use is a waste of money, and it’s highly discriminatory.

Marijuana legalization will hurt businesses in Arizona.

This is a real Pinocchio Point. Legalization will put more money into the economy and will grow more new businesses. Putting more money into the economy and into people’s pockets is a good thing, when you live in a capitalist society. Also, Ducey likes to promote Arizona tourism. Colorado and other states where marijuana has been legalized have seen a boost in pot tourism.

Now, to be fair, marijuana legalization could put a dent in the sales of other drugs– particularly alcohol and prescription pain killers– and that’s why big pharma and big alcohol are fighting legalization in Arizona and elsewhere.  It’s a good thing that alcohol sales may go down, since alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana. (Alcohol + guns is an extremely deadly combination, but I don’t see Ducey and Polk addressing this public health crisis in our state.)

It is no surprise that the biggest anti-pot-legalization donor is Insys Therapeutics, which manufactures a synthethic THC drug and fentanyl (the prescription pain killer that killed Prince). Even though pot is a safe alternative to prescription pain killers for some patients, big pharma wants to keep its customers.  Insys gave $500,000 to Polk’s group to fight Prop 205. Follow the money. Big pharma also has donated to many Arizona Legislators on both sides of the aisle. Republicans have been the biggest recipients of pharma funds, and they have been the loudest voices against legalization. (How much of Ducey’s $12 million in campaign cash came from big pharma?)

Marijuana is going to make roads more dangerous.

Our roads are already extremely dangerous with speeding vehicles, red-light runners, drunk drivers, armed drivers, aggressive behavior, poor road conditions, lack of sidewalks, and deferred infrastructure maintenance.

Walking is extremely dangerous in Tucson– thanks to the dramatic increase in red-light running, since the citizens voted against the red light cameras.

Will marijuana legalization make them worse? The studies quoted above showed that marijuana use may increase the risk of car crashes– but not to the extent that alcohol and opioids do

According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), the overall data on impairment are mixed, and more research is necessary.

…However, the researchers were unable to show causality between marijuana or other drug use and involvement in fatal vehicle crashes.[12] As with other substances and products that impair the operation of motor vehicles, the issue of commercial marijuana use and motor vehicle safety will need to be addressed through federal, state, and local regulatory schemes…

The initiative, if approved, will be difficult to amend by the Legislature.

This is a good thing. The citizens have been fighting against the Legislature for decades. The people vote for something– like independent redistricting, Clean Elections, the tobacco tax, or medical marijuana– and the Legislature routinely tries to overturn the will of the people. That’s why Arizona residents passed the initiative to protect citizens’ initiatives from the Legislature.

It will increase the number of teens using marijuana.

Under Prop 205, people who buy marijuana will have to show ID to prove they are 21 or older. You don’t have to show an ID to drugs on the black market. Also– illicit drug dealers will introduce your children to other harder drugs. The pot store won’t.

Furthermore, we should be worried about the number of teens who take up smoking cigarettes because they will kill you. Tobacco is the real gateway drug.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

  • 1.8 million high school students are current smokers.
  • 2500 kids (under 18) try smoking tobacco for the first time each day.
  • 400+ kids (under 18) become new regular tobacco users each day.
  • 540 million packs of cigarettes are consumed by kids (under 18) each year– the equivalent of $1.2 billion per year in sales revenue.

Other statements in the Star article…

Raytheon will leave, and other businesses won’t come here!

First of all, businesses don’t want to come to our state because Arizona’s Tea Party Republicans– including Ducey– have destroyed the economy, dramatically reduced the viability of the public education system, hampered research by short-changing the university system, and allowed our infrastructure to crumble. Let’s not use pot as a scapegoat for failed policy decisions.

Prop 205 doesn’t require employers to allow or accommodate the consumption or possession of marijuana in the workplace.

Furthermore… there is evidence that prescription drugs hamper performance and are highly dangerous and addictive. How do employers currently deal with employees who are abusing prescription drugs? Do employers allow employees to bring prescription opioids and mood-altering prescription drugs to work and consume them there? We should take a broader view of drugs in the workplace. Just because a drug is legal, doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause impairment on the job or lost productivity. Just look at the billions of dollars in lost productivity due to cigarette breaks!

Law enforcement is against legalization.

According to the Star, Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos said that “no sheriff in the state sees legalization as a step forward.”

“I know I speak for the sheriff’s association, perhaps for all law enforcement, when I say that we see this as a public safety issue,” Nanos said. “This is really about our kids and the future of our state.” [Quote from the Star.]

First of all “all law enforcement” is not against lifting marijuana prohibition. The national group Law Enforcement Against Legalization (LEAP) has been speaking out against the failed War on Drugs for years. Their website includes press releases supporting marijuana legalization initiatives in Massachusetts and California.

What about civil forfeiture? Law enforcement departments and county attorneys all make money on civil forfeiture of cash, vehicles, homes, and other possessions which are confiscated from citizens who are suspected of crimes. Busting drug suspects is a big part of the civil forfeiture game. You don’t have to be convicted of a crime to lose your belongings and money. With fewer arrests for marijuana use, there will be less income for sheriffs and county attorneys from civil forfeiture. (Watch John Oliver’s exposee on civil forfeiture.)

Fun Fact: Yavapai County Attorney Polk is using county forfeiture funds to fight Prop 205. Yes, she’s using money that Yavapai County took from people who were suspected of a crime– but not necessarily guilty or charged with anything– to fight legalization. After all, continued prohibition will bring in more forfeiture money (which is good for county attorneys and sheriffs’ departments statewide), and legalization would mean less civil forfeiture (which is good for citizens). Read the extensive report in the New Times here.

With legalization, there will be fewer arrests overall– giving police and sheriffs deputies more time to tackle more serious crimes. Far too much taxpayer money is wasted on harassing, arresting and jailing marijuana users.

In Conclusion…

We should focus anti-drug efforts on opiates and other drugs that kill and addict our citizens– not on a plant that never killed anyone. People are dying and healthcare costs are skyrocketing from opiate overdose and prescription drug abuse. Let’s focus on real problems.

The anti-Prop 205 campaign is all about the money and not about public health, safety, or even common sense.

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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

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