Why Can’t You Smoke Pot? Because Lobbyists Are Getting Rich Off of the War on Drugs

by on March 8, 2012 · 14 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Popular

By Lee Fang / AlterNet / March 7, 2012

Why we still put hundreds of thousands of people in steel cages for pot-related offenses.

John Lovell is a lobbyist who makes a lot of money from making sure you can’t smoke a joint. That’s his job. He’s a lobbyist for the police unions in Sacramento, and he is a driving force behind grabbing Federal dollars to shut down the California marijuana industry. I’ll get to the evidence on this important story in a bit, but first, some context.

At some point in the distant past, the war on drugs might have been popular. But not anymore — the polling is clear, but beyond that, the last three Presidents have used illegal drugs. So why do we still put hundreds of thousands of people of people in steel cages for pot-related offenses? Well, there are many reasons, but one of them is, of course, money in politics. Corruption. Whatever you want to call it, it’s why you can’t smoke a joint without committing a crime, though of course you can ingest any number of pills or drinks completely within the law.

Some of the groups who want to keep the drug illegal are police unions that want more members to pay more dues. One of the primary sources for cash for more policing activities are Federal grants for penalizing illegal drug use, which help pay for overtime, additional police officers, and equipment for the force. That’s what Lovell does, he gets those grants. He also fights against democratic mechanisms to legalize drugs.

In 2010, California considered Prop 19, a measure to legalize marijuana and tax it as alcohol. The proposition gained more votes than Meg Whitman, the former eBay executive and Republican gubernatorial nominee that year, but failed to pass. Opponents of the initiative ran ads, organized rallies, and spread conspiracy theories about billionaire George Soros to confuse voters.

Lovell managed the opposition campaign against Prop 19. He told Time Magazine that he was pushing against the initiative because, “the last thing we need is yet another mind-altering substance to be legalized.”

But Republic Report reviewed lobbying contracts during the Prop 19 fight, and found that Lovell’s firm was paid over $386,350from a wide array of police unions, including the California Police Chiefs Association.

While Lovell may contend that he sincerely opposes the idea of marijuana legalization, he has constructed an entire business model predicated on pot prohibition.

Shortly after President Obama’s stimulus program passed, Lovell went to work channeling the taxpayer money for California into drug war programs. According to documents Republic Report obtained from the Police Chiefs Association, Lovell helped local departments apply for drug war money from the Federal government. Here’s a copy of one letter  sent to a police department in Lassen County, California:

There is big money in marijuana prohibition. Lovell represented a police union in a bid to steer some $2.2 million dollars into a “Marijuana Suppression Program.” In 2009 and 2010, California police unions sought a $7,537,389 chunk of Federal money for police to conduct a “Campaign Against Marijuana Planting” program.

The anti-marijuana money went directly into the paychecks of many officers. For example, police departments in Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tehama Counties formed a “North California Eradication Team” to receive $550,000 in grants that helped pay for overtime, a new officer, and flight operations:

Broken down in the agenda worksheet, the sheriff’s office is expecting to spend $20,000 on flight operations, $94,895 for the full-time deputy’s salary and benefits, $16,788 for the administration assistant salary and benefits and $29,983 to cover up to 666.29 hours of overtime. …

The specific duties of the NorCal-MET … are to minimize marijuana availability within the region through investigation, crop destruction and other means; investigate, arrest and successfully prosecute individuals involved in major drug trafficking organizations; …  seize and initiate forfeiture proceedings of assets associated with illegal marijuna trafficking; … and target general problems associated with reducing illegal marijuana operations.

The Federal anti-marijuana honeypot might have dried up if Prop 19 had passed. Legalizing marijuana would have generated billions in tax revenue for the state of California, while also reducing victimless crime prosecutions. But for lobbyists like Lovell, legalization was a direct assault on hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential fees for helping to solicit taxpayer money for his clients.

Of course, police unions aren’t the only interest group with a stake in maintaining broken drug laws. The beer industryalcohol corporations, and prison guard unions also contributed money to help Lovell stop Prop 19. Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now helps push for legalization as a citizen advocate, told Republic Report that drug company lobbyists also fight to keep marijuana illegal because they view pot as a low-cost form of competition.

Lee Fang, Senior Investigator Republic Report, is a former investigative blogger for ThinkProgress.org and a freelance journalist.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie March 8, 2012 at 11:36 am

STOP the PRESSES ! This just in: Pat Robertson: It’s time to legalize marijuana


Lois March 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Lovell needs to have his mind altered!


goBallistic March 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I am dreaming and finally agree with Pat:
“‘It’s completely out of control,’ Mr. Robertson said. ‘Prisons are being overcrowded with juvenile offenders having to do with drugs. And the penalties, the maximums, some of them could get 10 years for possession of a joint of marijuana. It makes no sense at all.'”

He distinguishes between drugs and marijuana but appears to be calling for an exit from the war on drugs. Either there is another shoe waiting to drop or the wolf has come to live with the lamb


john March 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm

This is insane! Ruining people’s lives, incarcerating them, ensuring by them having criminal records they will never be productive members of society, (try passing a background check, getting bonded which is required to work at 7/11 since they sell lottery tickets, or getting a security clearance with any criminal conviction) all so police dept’s can see their members get overtime and job security!
And when the people vote to change the law AKA prop 215? Ignore it! Screw the will of the people! We’re the Dept of Justice, we do what we like.


Lois March 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I didn’t even read this whole article before I decided to post here. (I will go back though and read the entire post.)

Just the title of marijuana incenses me. Can you give me the statistics of how dangerous it is? How it compares to the use of alcohol? How much carnage and death do you see by drunk drivers as compared to pot? How you ever seen patients dying of alcoholic cirrhosis? Pretty ugly sight even compared to cancer and HIV deaths. So tell me if I am uninformed about the dangers of pot use that are even minutely comparable to alcoholic deaths. What about prohition of alcohol. How was that legalized? Could it be because it is the drug of choice for some of the people that presume to govern this country? I see Pat Robertson’s name above. I have to leave now see what this luna… that puts his hand on his head and hears God tell him how to heal his flock has to say.


Chris March 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Alcohol is legal, kills thousands upon thousands every year, tobacco kills hundreds of thousands every year, not by abuse, but by normal use. OTC’s are legal, and are abused every day, with thousands of overdoses every year, and new drugs coming out always have a commercial months later for a lawsuit that always states the drug the government put out causes terminal diseases and illnesses.

Marijuana has never had a death in history, nor can it cause cancer, it is used as medicine, and yet its still illegal?

The government is a joke.


john March 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm

oh, but it’s a gateway drug they say, which is actually TRUE in a sick, twisted way.
By making it illegal they force people to associate with people involved with the illegal drug trade and go to areas where illegal drugs are openly sold. Thus marijuana users will become accustomed to illegal drugs so it’s not a big step to try others.
All that being said, let’s get real here. I haven’t smoked pot since 2000. Nothing bad ever happened to me merely because of smoking pot.
However there is no way of telling what good things may have happened if I hadn’t.
Life is really like a long hallway of doors of opportunity. I can look behind me and I don’t know what is in all the ones that may have been closed to me because I was stoned on a given day. I just know there’s a bit of hallway left in front of me with open doors now.


goBallistic March 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Niquil is a gateway drug


Lois March 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Chris: you bring up the point about “marijuana leads to other drugs.” Being among the drug culture, it is probably like experiencing peer pressure, that is IF you might be of that “persuasion.” But who can say which person is suseptable and which is not. I know of an older couple who sits on their deck sometimes in the evening watching the sun go down while having their smoke. Never have seen any unusual activity or unusual amount of people visiting. I know of other responsible people that do the same thing. Sure better than a binge drink, especially in PB after the bars close. I believe that pot smoking by responsible people is pretty widespread.

I was talking to a physician who was telling me about a particular patient, pain that was uncontrolled. She stated she would have liked to get the patient marijuana, however, her hands were tied, the conflict of legality and being illegal due to State approving and the Feds making it legal.

And don’t forget the cost of death. Then the costs of healthcare and rehabilitation for the injured and mangled.


Lois March 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm

And how about frequent news of medication like Vicodin involved in many deaths.


Lois March 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

“drug company lobbyists also fight to keep marijuana illegal because they view pot as a low-cost form of competition.”

How sick does greed get?


Lois March 8, 2012 at 5:58 pm

OMG! Pat Robertson is going to do what no one else could. Legalize pot?


Lois March 8, 2012 at 6:14 pm

On second thought, I think Pat Robertson should be regulated.


Rick March 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm

People are beginning to realize that there’s something really fishy about the people who want to protect you from harm leaving thousands of plants and mushrooms out living in nature that can KILL you, but for some reason have an eradication campaign against plants and mushrooms that just make you feel good and act silly.

Something’s not quite right there for sure.


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