We are being hoodwinked yet again by big business profiteers. How? Those who seek to legally sell addictive marijuana will reap profits; society and the vulnerable will be left to pay the costs.
Consider this: The United States pays about $600 billion annually for all drug use; it is a figure based on lost productivity, and health- and crime-related costs, according to Office of National Drug Control Policy. The two legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, account for more than two-thirds of that cost. Yet, federal and state taxes raised from their sale recover only 6 percent in alcohol costs and 13 percent in tobacco costs.
Yet, once again, Iowa will be asked to consider marijuana's legalization for medical use when the Legislature next meets.
Our legitimate compassion to help those who suffer the very real pain of cancer, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma has been sidetracked by those seeking to personally profit through the legalization of marijuana. We can see this clearly in Colorado, a state that began its path to marijuana legalization through medical use. Statistics show that only 5 percent of Colorado medical card holders have cancer, HIV/AIDs or glaucoma, and the average card holder is a 32-year-old white male with a history of substance abuse and no life-threatening illness.
So we need to ask this question before Iowa pursues a similar path: Are those promoting the use of marijuana for medical purposes more concerned with making a financial killing than genuinely helping people in need?
The answer has already played out in Colorado. Legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes made it more accessible to that state's youth. In turn, the number of youth seeking treatment for addiction to marijuana skyrocketed in Denver. So, in reality, rather than soothe pain, what the legalization did was facilitate pain and problems.
We know that big business cannot always be trusted to act ethically or in the public interest. It has been shown that big tobacco companies consistently lied to the American public about the dangers of smoking in the mid-20th century. Those companies told our government smoking wasn't harmful, but corporate memos later revealed the cold-hearted pursuit of profits.
Here are some examples:
The Liggett Group: "If you are really and truly not going to sell (cigarettes) to children, you are going to be out of business in 30 years."
R.J. Reynolds: "Realistically, if our company is to survive and prosper over the long term, we must get our share of the youth market."
Lorillard: "The base of our business is the high school student."
Phillip Morris: "Today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer Because of our high share of the market among the youngest smokers, Philip Morris will suffer more than the other companies from the decline in the number of teenage smokers."
This country's policy changes have curbed tobacco use here, but big tobacco just shifted its focus to developing countries in Asia and Africa, countries that lack public infrastructure that could curb the resulting public health drain on its resources.
Now big tobacco has its eyes on marijuana.
Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris, has said it has infrastructure in place to benefit from legalized marijuana. It has purchased web domains AltriaCannabis.com and AltriaMarijuana.com.
Like tobacco, marijuana can be smoked and it is addictive - more addictive in the young, in fact. Statistics show that one in six young marijuana smokers become addicted; one in 10 adults become addicted, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
There are 2.4 million new users of marijuana every year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Of them, 58 percent are 17 or younger.
Do we really expect the corporate giants to not target our youth?
Ask yourself these hard questions: Do you trust marijuana businesses to ignore enticing statistics when developing their marketing plans? Can we afford to ignore lessons we have already learned about how big business values the bottom line over the common good?
Let's not let another corporation use us so they can earn profits at the expense of harm to our collective public health and our youth. It is our future and our children's future that matter, not their bottom line. Legalizing marijuana for medical use, and thus making it more widely available, is just another opportunity to be hoodwinked.
Kathy Getting is director of Power Up YOUth, a federally funded coalition committed to improving the lives of youth in Hamilton County.