Business owners are replacing idealists in the pot-legalization movement as the nascent marijuana industry creates a broad base of new donors, many of them entrepreneurs willing to spend to change drug policy.
Unlike in the past, these supporters are not limited to a few wealthy people seeking change for personal reasons. They constitute a bigger coalition of business interests. And their support provides a significant financial advantage for pro-legalization campaigns.
“It’s mainly a social-justice movement. But undoubtedly there are business interests at work, which is new in this movement,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, a one-time pot-shop owner and now head of a Denver marijuana consulting firm.
The donors offer a wider foundation of support for the marijuana-related measures on the ballot next month in nine states. The campaigns are still largely funded by national advocacy organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC. But those groups are less reliant on billionaire activists.
On the other side, legalization opponents are attracting new support from businesses as diverse as trucking, pharmaceuticals and even gambling.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., followed in 2014. The result is a bigger pool of existing businesses that see expansion potential in more states authorizing use of the drug.
Take Darren Roberts of Boca Raton, Florida, co-founder of High There!, a social network for fans of pot. He donated $500 this year to a campaign to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Florida. Roberts is also encouraging his customers to donate to legalization campaigns in their own states.
“I would say it’s a combination of both the philanthropic social interest and the potential financial interest,” Roberts said.
All five states considering recreational marijuana _ Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada _ have seen more money flowing to groups that favor legalization than to those fighting it. The same is true in the four states considering starting or reinstating medical marijuana _ Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.
The donors who contribute to anti-legalization efforts have changed, too.
Some deep-pocket donors who drove opposition campaigns in years past are opening their pocketbooks again.
Casino owner Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, for example, gave some $5 million in 2014 to oppose a medical-pot measure in Florida. This year, as his home state considers recreational pot and Florida takes a second look at medical marijuana, Adelson has spent $2 million on opposition in Nevada and $1 million to oppose legalization in Massachusetts.
Other casinos are donating to Nevada opposition efforts, too, including MGM Resorts International and Atlantis Casino & Resort. Nevada gambling regulators have warned that marijuana violates federal law.
Some new opponents have also emerged, moving beyond the typical anti-pot base that includes law enforcement groups, alcohol companies and drug-treatment interests.
A pharmaceutical company that is working on a synthetic version of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, Insys Therapeutics Inc., has given at least $500,000 to oppose full marijuana legalization in its home state of Arizona.
The company did not return a message for comment on the donation. Company officials said in a statement last month that Insys opposes the Arizona ballot measure because marijuana’s safety has not been demonstrated through the federal regulatory process.
Other new names popping up in opposition disclosures include U-Haul, which gave $25,000 to oppose legalization in Arizona, and Julie Schauer, a Pennsylvania retiree who gave more than $1 million to a group opposing legalization. Neither returned messages seeking comment on their donations.
Smaller donors to opposition campaigns say they are hopelessly outgunned by the young pot industry, but are giving out of a sense of duty.
“Everyone’s talking about it like it’s a done deal, but I can’t sit by when I’ve seen firsthand the destruction that marijuana does to people,” said Howard Samuels, a drug-treatment therapist in Los Angeles who donated some $20,000 to oppose recreational legalization in California.
Samuels and other marijuana opponents insist that the pot industry cynically hopes to get more people addicted to the drug to line its own pockets, comparing pot providers to tobacco companies.
But marijuana-industry donors insist that they are simply carrying on a tradition started by the tie-dye wearing drug activists who pushed legalization long before there was any business model attached to it. They insist they would contribute financially even without any money-making potential.
“When a movement becomes an industry, of course the advocacy picture gets shuffled,” said Bob Hoban, a Denver attorney specializing in marijuana law and a $1,000 donor to the Marijuana Policy Project. “It shifts away from activists to more traditional business interests, because the skill sets don’t exactly transfer.”
U.S. politicians, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and members of Congress, are demanding more information on why the price for lifesaving EpiPens has skyrocketed.
EpiPens are injection devices used to ward off potentially fatal allergic reactions, and the price has surged in recent years.
A two-dose package cost around $94 nine years ago.
The average cost was more than six times that in May, according to the Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote Mylan, the company that manufactures the devices, and asked for more information on why the prices have increased.
He cited the cost to parents whose children need them and also to schools that keep the EpiPens on hand. He noted the costs can also be passed on to taxpayers when children are covered by Medicaid or other government programs.
Two other senators, Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, also wrote the company about the high prices. Warner said in a letter this week that the issue is personal for him.
“As the parent of a child with severe allergies, I am all too familiar with the life-or-death importance of these devices,” Warner wrote.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to hold a hearing on the issue. She is a co-chair of the Congressional Kids Safety Caucus.
“Thousands of Americans rely on EpiPens in a given year, and perhaps no time is more important in the purchasing of these devices than the beginning of a new school year,” Meng wrote in a letter to committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and top Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Meanwhile, Clinton is raising questions and concerns as she campaigns for the White House.
Clinton, in a statement issued on Aug. 24, said, “Mylan Pharmaceuticals has increased the price of EpiPens by more than 400 percent. They’re now charging up to $600 for a two-EpiPen set that must be replaced every 12-18 months. This both increases out-of-pocket costs for families and first responders, and contributes to higher premiums for all Americans and their employers.
“That’s outrageous — and it’s just the latest troubling example of a company taking advantage of its consumers. I believe that our pharmaceutical and biotech industries can be an incredible source of American innovation, giving us revolutionary treatments for debilitating diseases. But it’s wrong when drug companies put profits ahead of patients, raising prices without justifying the value behind them.”
A two-dose package sold for an average $608 in May, according to the Elsevier database, and has possibly risen since then.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Mylan said it has savings programs for patients and is also offering free EpiPens to schools. The company said around half of U.S. schools are participating in that program.
Recent changes in health insurance have resulted in higher deductible costs for many families, the company said. “This current and ongoing shift has presented new challenges for consumers, and now they are bearing more of the cost” of the devices, the statement said.
Clinton has released a detailed plan for dealing with exorbitant drug price hikes. She’s said pharmaceutical manufacturers should be required to explain significant price increases and prove that any additional costs are linked to additional patient benefits and better value.
“Since there is no apparent justification in this case, I am calling on Mylan to immediately reduce the price of EpiPens,” Clinton said.
Clinton said her plan also encourages the production of alternative products to “keep drug prices at a level that all Americans can afford.”
From WiG and AP reports
Sales of medically important antibiotics for use in raising domestic animals for livestock increased 3 percent from 2013 to 2014, and an alarming 23 percent in the last five years, according to an annual report released this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
This news comes on the heels of recent warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization that in order to keep antibiotics working to treat sick humans, the agricultural industry must stop misusing antibiotics by administering them to animals that are not sick for growth promotion and disease prevention.
Avinash Kar, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, “Dangerous overuse of antibiotics by the agricultural industry has been on the rise at an alarming rate in recent years — putting the effectiveness of our lifesaving drugs in jeopardy for people when they get sick. We can no longer rely on the meat and pharmaceutical industries to self-police the responsible handling of these precious drugs.
He continued, “The FDA must follow the lead of California and outlaw routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick in meat production nationwide. If we want to keep our antibiotics working for people when we need them, the agency must take urgent action.”
The next six weeks will be filled with traditions: Pumpkin pie and turkey. Caroling. Making cookies. Spending time with family and friends.
Add one more to the list: Recycling.
“Wisconsin has a strong recycling ethic,” says Amanda Wegner, communications director with Clean Wisconsin. “We enacted one of the first recycling laws in the nation in 1990, and a whopping 94 percent of households here recycle. Recycling is very much a tradition in Wisconsin.”
Today, Nov. 15, is America Recycles Day, a national day to raise awareness about the benefits of recycling and buying recycled products. While we’re all familiar with how to recycle household items such as paper, cardboard, bottles and cans, many other household items have recycling solutions. Here a few to consider:
- Appliances: Steel is North America’s most recycled material. If your community doesn’t offer appliance recycling, visit the Steel Recycling Institute to find out a location near you. Goodwill also accepts working appliances.
- Athletic shoes: Don’t kick your old shoes to the curb. Drop them off at a Nike store, and Nike will grind them down to create play surfaces.
- Juice pouches, empty tape rolls, writing utensils & more: Does an item have you scratching your head, wondering if it’s recyclable? Check out Terracycle’s Brigades program, which offers national programs to collect previously non-recyclable or hard to recycle waste.
- Packaging peanuts: Many suppliers are happy to take these back. Find a site near you here.
- Unused/unneeded drugs and pharmaceuticals: Many municipalities and police departments now sponsor regular drug take-back days or have secure dropboxes; find one here.
- Wine corks: Raise a glass responsibly by recycling your corks. Whole Foods offers bins for corks in stores or find a ReCork drop-off site at www.recork.org/en/location
- Holiday lights: ‘Tis the season for burnt-out and broken light strings! Holiday LEDs will recycle them for you and send you a coupon for new LED light string. As an added bonus, their recycling center is here in Wisconsin!
- CFLs: While they save 75% more energy than incandescents, even CFL lightbulbs burn out now and then. And because they contain a small amount of mercury, it’s important to dispose of them properly. Many hardware stores will take spent CFLs for recycling; visit Focus on Energy for a full list.
- Old thermostats: Like CFLs, old dial-style thermostats contain a small amount of mercury. If there’s a remodeling project in your future or you’re upgrading to a programmable thermostat to save energy and money, visit www.thermostat-recycle.org/zipsearch to find a recycling location.
- Other items: Try listing other items on sites like www.freecycle.org, Craigslist and online garage sales. Your trash could very well be another person’s treasure.
The company leading the legal challenge against birth control coverage under the new health care law offers its workers a retirement plan that includes investments in companies making contraceptive and abortion drugs.
Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. has a 401(k) plan featuring several mutual funds investing in pharmaceutical firms that produce intrauterine birth control devices, emergency contraceptive pills and drugs used in abortion procedures, according to Labor Department documents and a review of fund portfolios.
Hobby Lobby and the Green family that owns it say their religious beliefs prohibit them from offering health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that can work after conception. The retailer and others have sued the Obama administration, challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide coverage for all approved forms of birth control, including the morning-after pill and similar drugs that may work after an egg has been fertilized.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last week and is expected to issue a ruling by June.
“This is the height of hypocrisy,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “Hobby Lobby’s CEO wants to deny the company’s 13,000 employees access to affordable birth control, while investing in pharmaceutical companies that make it.”
Hobby Lobby spokeswoman Emily Hardman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The magazine Mother Jones first reported Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan investment holdings.
Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) plan includes funds that invest in Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, maker of Plan B, known as the morning-after pill, and ParaGard, an intrauterine device. Hobby Lobby objects to offering employee coverage for both forms of birth control.
Other holdings include Pfizer, maker of the drugs Cytotec and Prostin E2 used to induce abortions, and Forest Laboratories, maker of Cervidil, which is also used to induce abortions. Some of the funds also invest in health insurance companies Aetna and Humana, which offer policies covering emergency contraception and surgical abortions.
The pharmaceutical companies are among dozens of holdings by each mutual fund, and represent just a fraction of the overall investment.
The investments were disclosed in December in an annual filing that Hobby Lobby made to the Employee Benefits Security Administration, the Labor Department agency that oversees employer-sponsored retirement plans. Hobby Lobby offered to match employee contributions to the 401(k) plan, an amount totaling $3.8 million in 2012.
The Green family says it believes life begins at conception, and lawyers for the Greens say following the provisions of the new federal health care law would either violate their religious beliefs or force them to pay millions of dollars in fines. The company’s insurance plans do offer 16 other forms of birth control mentioned in the federal health care law.
The Obama administration says a victory for Hobby Lobby and other companies challenging the law would prevent their female employees from making decisions about birth control based on what’s best for their health, not whether they can afford it.