Follow the Money: How Former Anti-Drug Officials Ridiculously Still Say Pot Is Dangerous in Order to Make a Lot of Cash
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The department of the White House drug czar, otherwise known as the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is another arm of the government’s war on drugs that can be lucrative to incumbents. Andrea Barthwell, MD, former deputy drug czar during President George W. Bush’s first term and his point person against medical marijuana, has earned a living both treating drug addicts and lobbying against policies that weaken marijuana laws—and cut into her own bottom line.
As a past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine ( ASAM)—a group that opposes medical marijuana, and whose members’ business model could be threatened by legalized marijuana, since two-thirds of its clientele are court-ordered pot users trying to avoid jail time—Barthwell has been one of its fiercest attack dogs. In ASAM campaigns against Oregon and Illinois’ medical marijuana initiatives, she called those who favor medical marijuana “cruel” and “snake oil salesman.” She denounces this pain-relief and anti-nausea approach for patients with cancer and AIDS because, she claims, it is unregulated and unproven (the Institute of Medicine declared medical marijuana useful in 2003, and since then many studies, and many more users, attest to its benefits.)
Yet Barthwell was happy to jump from the ONDCP to the payroll of GW Pharmaceutical in 2005, lobbying for the Canadian company’s Sativex—a liquefied marijuana spray, extracted from whole plant cannabis, for the same pain benefits. Even as the American Medical Association and federal lawmakers maintain that pot has no medicinal value, Big Pharma is applying for dozens of cannabis-based new medicines in order to take hold of of the $1.8 billion medical marijuana industry, as NORML’s Paul Armentano pointed out five years ago in the Huffington Post.
Barthwell, like Bensinger and DuPoint, also has a financial stake in the prohibition treatment culture. She is founder and CEO of EMGlobal LLC, parent company of the Chicago-based Two Dreams Outer Banks drug treatment center, and is also a director of Catasys Inc., which provides substance abuse programs and behavioral health management services to companies, health plans and unions—a role for which she received $77,994 in compensation in 2011.
When it comes to the drug war, money rolls into whichever corporate pockets are willing to play ball, whether it’s big-time lobbyists or broadcast TV networks. Barry McCaffrey—President Clinton’s second-term drug czar and a former Army general, who also signed the recent letter to Holder—was in charge of the purse strings at ONDCP. He oversaw a money-soaked, ham-handed propaganda campaign: In 1999, his office hired PR giant Fleishman-Hillard (at $10 million a year), which encouraged TV networks to slip anti-drug messages into sitcoms and dramas in exchange for ad time worth millions. The secret effort allowed networks to avoid running PSAs, freeing up airtime for paid ads. Networks also gave the ONCDP advance copies of scripts to review. It’s estimated that between 1998 and 2000, the networks received up to $25 million in benefits.
At the same time, McCaffrey was sharpening his stick for the battle against medical marijuana, flatly denying that patients in pain could receive relief from pot. After he left the drug czar’s job, he went on the payroll of military contractors, promoting their interests in the Iraq war as a frequent talking head on national network TV, never disclosing his financial ties.
Lobbying your former employer—whether it’s the government itself or taxpayers who foot the bill—is the No. 1 way one-time public servants can serve themselves. The same is true of current state-paid employees, like cops and other law enforcement personnel whose job it is to crack down on illegal weed smoking. As Armentano notes, federal grants that target illegal drug use are a major source of funding for local police coffers, paying for new hires, equipment and coveted overtime pay.