March 2005 Vol 5, No. 3
Pills that Kill, Tort Reform and Marijuana Prohibition
By Bonnie Weinstein
Killer prescription pills, limitations on lawsuits against big drug manufacturers and the prohibition of marijuana—seemingly unrelated topics—paint a vivid picture of reality—one that exposes the truth about the injustices of capitalism in a stark way. Such is the relationship between the recent decision to keep commercially produced pills that kill on the market, the passage of Tort Reform that limits lawsuits by victims of these killer drugs, and the draconian marijuana prohibition laws that have resulted in the incarceration of tens of thousands of individuals and criminalizes an estimated one in five who routinely use it.
Drugs that kill
According to a New York Times article that appeared February 25, 2005 entitled, “10 Voters on Panel Backing Pain Pills Had Industry Ties,” by Gardiner Harris and Alex Berenson, “Ten of the 32 government drug advisers who…endorsed continued marketing of the huge-selling pain pills Celebrex, Bextra and Vioxx have consulted in recent years for the drugs’ makers.”
The authors go on to point out that, “…If the 10 advisers had not cast their votes, the committee would have voted 12 to 8 that Bextra should be withdrawn and 14 to 8 that Vioxx should not return to the market.”
To compound this hypocrisy, the new Tort Reform bill that just passed limits class action suits against drug and medical device manufacturers. How convenient!
In an article entitled, “Bush Tort Reform: Executive Clemency For Executive Killers,” Greg Palast (author of the bestseller, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”) states, “It’s a great day for the Eichmanns of corporate America. President Bush minutes ago signed the ill named ‘tort reform’ bill into law, limiting class action suits. Doubtless, Ken Lay, former Enron CEO, is grinning, as are the corporate suit killers at drug maker Merck who are now safer from the widows and orphans of Vioxx victims. Closing the doors of justice to the ruined and wrecked families of boardroom bad guys is nothing less than executive clemency for executive executioners.”
Palast goes on, “You think my accusation is over the top? Well, please talk with Elaine Levenson.
“Levenson, a Cincinnati housewife, has been waiting for her heart to explode. In 1981, surgeons implanted a mechanical valve in her heart, the Bjork-Shiley, ‘the Rolls-Royce of valves,’ her doctor told her. What neither she nor her doctor knew was that several Bjork-Shiley valves had fractured during testing, years before her implant. The company that made the valve, a unit of the New York-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, never told the government.
“At Pfizer’s factory in the Caribbean, company inspectors found inferior equipment, which made poor welds. Rather than toss out bad valves, Pfizer management ordered the defects ground down, weakening the valves further but making them look smooth and perfect. Then Pfizer sold them worldwide.”
That’s the reason for the Tort Reform bill in the first place. To protect corporations like Pfizer—choosing the “high road” of dollars over people, pun intended.
And drugs that don’t kill
Compare the treatment of the CEOs of these killer-drug manufacturers with the treatment of those involved in the use, possession or sale of marijuana.
In an article that appeared in the New York Times, March 5, 2005, entitled, “Violent New Front in Drug War Opens on the Canadian Border,” by Sarah Kershaw, scuffles between marijuana growers and smugglers and Drug Enforcement officers along the Canadian border are getting more violent.
She points to an incident that occurred on Thursday, [March 3, 2005] in which, “…four officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were shot to death in Alberta, British Columbia’s neighboring province, as they were searching a marijuana-growing operation, one of many on the rise there.”
Kershaw describes numerous and ingenious ways smugglers try to avoid detection. She paints a surreal picture of the infamous “BC bud”—that she claims is ten times as potent as “Mexican bud” and, as she also claims, has an “almost mythic reputation on the street.”
She gives figures of how much money is generated by the sale of the “drug.” She describes the conflict between strict American law enforcement and more tolerant Canadian enforcement of border regulations. And she says this is an “increasingly violent $7 billion cultivation and smuggling industry.” But she doesn’t question the prohibition laws.
Marijuana ‘treatment figures’ are a sham
Later on in the same article in the section with a subhead, “More seek treatment for marijuana,” Kershaw quotes from a March 4, 2005 AP story that says, “The admission rate for those who seek treatment for marijuana use nearly tripled between 1992 and 2002, according to the latest data compiled by the federal government;” implying that the high potency of the strain is the cause for the increase in those seeking treatment.
What neither the AP article nor Kershaw report is that increasingly, marijuana drug treatment is ordered as part of sentencing and probation terms, not because users sought out “treatment” for marijuana use. It does make for good propaganda though.
Marijuana and alcohol prohibition:
the same but different
The prohibition of marijuana has three basic similarities with the prohibition of alcohol that ended in the 1930’s. Both substances have and had been declared illegal, both are and were in popular use among all segments of society—Black, white, rich or poor—and enforcement of these laws is and has always been selectively enforced against the poor while the rich go “undetected” (they don’t get their drugs on the streets like the poor and they don’t party on the streets like the poor have to). The rich also can afford the kind of legal assistance that will keep them out of jail when they do get caught.
The poor are left to “cop a plea” and accept the terms of probation, including so-called drug treatment. The poor can’t bail themselves out of jail either, which puts more pressure on them to plead guilty and accept “drug treatment” requirements to stay out of jail.
The difference is that prescription drugs kill by the thousands. Alcohol has been shown to cause death by overdose, and millions have died in alcohol-related car accidents. But there have been no car accidents attributed to marijuana alone. All involved alcohol or other drugs in combination. And no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose.
What these three topics together show is that this king of all capitalist governments, the U.S. government, doesn’t give a damn about the health or safety of people. The government always turns a blind or forgiving eye to the wealthy who “stray” from sobriety, and makes a point of demonizing the poor, who suffer most from serious addictions to substances such as crack, heroin, alcohol, cigarettes and illegally obtained pain pills (also a boon to drug manufacturers.) And while it forces people into treatment programs for marijuana “abuse,” it lets those with serious and life-threatening addictions wait up to a year for treatment!
Capitalism demonizes even the ill whose aches and pains are soothed by the centuries old herbal treatment of smoking or eating marijuana—an herb anyone can grow in their back yard. But it encourages the manufacture and sale of prescription drugs and cigarettes that kill by the millions—dangerous drugs that generate profits in amounts that dwarf the profits earned from the sale of marijuana.
If the government really wanted to end the violence associated with the use of marijuana they should legalize it and use the billions wasted in marijuana prohibition enforcement and “treatment” to offer free, comprehensive healthcare and drug rehabilitation programs (without jail time) to all who really need it.