In the year 2019, one of the most powerful Democrats in America thinks that marijuana is a gateway drug.
House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to a constituent dated August 26, 2019, that he was “initially amenable to the idea of the legalization of marijuana” decades ago, but changed his mind “after learning of the drug’s harmful consequences as a threshold drug that leads to the use of harder, very harmful drugs.”
The idea of marijuana as a gateway drug—a talking point that was pushed heavily in the 1990s through programs like D.A.R.E.—has been thoroughly debunked. (D.A.R.E. removed marijuana from its list of gateway drugs in 2016.)
According to the website of governmental National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), last updated July 2019, “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.” The NIDA proposed an alternative possibility based on its research: “People who are more vulnerable to drug-taking are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chances of trying other drugs.”
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Some studies suggest that access to marijuana could prevent people from using opioids, which are much more dangerous and addictive. A study from Economic Inquiry published earlier this month found that “legalization and access to recreational marijuana reduced annual opioid mortality in the range of 20% to 35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids.”
So what could explain Hoyer’s belief that marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug?
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Hoyer has taken $1,092,372 from PACs and individuals affiliated with the pharmaceuticals/health products industry over the course of his career. Only two House Democrats—Rep. Anna Eshoo of California And Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey—have received more money from the industry.
The pharmaceutical industry has invested heavily in lobbying to keep marijuana illegal, and since this industry is giving Hoyer so much money, it’s likely that they have his ear on the issue.
In 2016, Insys Therapeutics, maker of drugs containing fentanyl and other opioids, contributed $500,000 to an effort to kill marijuana legalization in Arizona. The company also lobbied the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2011 in opposition to a proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services to move THC to a less restrictive categorization under the Controlled Substances Act.
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Leading anti-marijuana organizations the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids have been funded by opioid manufacturers like Abbot Laboratories and Purdue Pharma, according to a report by Lee Fang for The Nation. Fang also reported that several academic researchers who have advocated against marijuana legalization are also consultants for pharmaceutical companies.
Through his campaigns, leadership PAC, and joint fundraising committee, Hoyer has received $124,000 from Eli Lilly’s PAC, $122,000 from GlaxoSmithKline’s PAC, and $118,000 from Pfizer’s PAC. The PAC of Johnson & Johnson, which was recently found to have intentionally minimized the dangers of its opioids by a judge in Oklahoma, gave Hoyer $27,500.
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