Painkiller Drug Companies Are Directly Funding Prominent Anti-Marijuana Arguments

It should come as no surprise that the multi-billion dollar companies behind our society’s most popular and deadly painkillers are suspected to have been lobbying for decades to keep cannabis outlawed. It’s easy, from a selfishly-economic viewpoint, to understand why they would do this: if everyone had the option to self-medicate with an easy-to-grow plant (it’s literally a weed) — especially one with so many medicinal applications — people would stop spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month to maintain their current painkiller prescriptions.

With marijuana law reform an increasingly popular topic among Americans, opponents of legalization have been scrambling to find their footing amid the influx of marijuana advocacy. Today, there remains yet a small group of anti-marijuana academics who are commonly sourced in opposition to legalization, and — new records suggest — this final bastion of academic resistance indeed sits comfortably on the painkiller industry’s payroll.

Dr. Herbert Kleber of Colombia University is one such leading academic voice against marijuana. He’s often quoted by both prohibitionists and public media in general, his argument being that legalizing marijuana could lead to widespread addiction and other public health issues. However, as VICE recently reported:

… what’s left unsaid is that Kleber has served as a paid consultant to leading prescription drug companies, including Purdue Pharma (the maker of OxyContin), Reckitt Benckiser (the producer of a painkiller called Nurofen), and Alkermes (the producer of a powerful new opioid called Zohydro).

Another academic, Dr. A. Eden Evins, is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Evins is on the board of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an anti-marijuana special interest group. She has often publicly spoken out against efforts to legalize marijuana, telling the NY Times last year, “When people can go to a ‘clinic’ or ‘cafe’ and buy pot, that creates the perception that it’s safe.” Unsurprisingly, after her participation in a commentary on marijuana hosted by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the publication’s administrators disclosed that as of 2012 she was working for a number of painkiller drug companies. One such company, Pfizer, currently has plans to introduce Remoxy, a direct competitor to OxyContin, to the painkiller marketplace.

Dr. Mark L. Kraus, who runs a private practice and serves as board member to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, has also publicly outspoken against marijuana. And, sure enough: one year before going on testimony in 2012 against Connecticut’s medical marijuana bill, he was serving on the scientific advisory panel for Big Pharma companies such as Pfizer and Reckitt Benkiser.

And it’s not just choice medical academics in their pocket, but entire political campaigns as well. In a recent Ganjapreneur article, we covered how the Colorado government’s most recent and notorious anti-marijuana campaign was “funded by a $2 million grant from the state attorney general’s office, though much of that money can itself be sourced back to legal settlements with various pharmaceutical companies.”

Painkiller overdoses claim 16,000 lives per year in the U.S. — more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, and the most of any country in the world. Meanwhile, there are still zero reported marijuana overdoses in all time. Yet painkiller drug companies, when faced with the pending legalization of what’s considered by many to be a miracle plant for its myriad medicinal uses, are simply lobbying harder than ever for prohibition.


Photo Credit: Brandon Giesbrecht

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