A new dose of reefer madness is spreading across Arizona as big-time pharmaceutical companies and the alcohol industry spend millions trying to convince voters not to legalize marijuana in the state.
Set to maudlin piano riffs, television spots feature educators complaining that school districts don't receive funding from marijuana taxes, as well as voice overs painting states like Colorado -- which legalized marijuana in 2012 -- as dystopian nightmares where the plant is pushed on children.
Big corporations are pumping even more money into TV commercials as election day draws near and voters in Arizona will be asked to vote yes or no on Proposition 205, The Guardian reports. If passed, people 21 years and older would be able to legally purchase and use marijuana.
The anti-marijuana ads aim to convince the small percentage of undecided voters to oppose the Arizona referendum. Fifty percent of registered voters say they support Proposition 205, according to an Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll, while 42 percent say they oppose it.
The ads claim opposition to marijuana reform is driven by concern for the safety of children, but critics say pharmaceutical and alcohol companies are more concerned that legalized marijuana will eat into their market share. Although there hasn't been much research on the subject, a handful of studies suggest that fewer people use and abuse prescription painkillers in states where marijuana is legal.
Some of the ads point out that children have been treated at Colorado emergency rooms at a rate of 2.3 per 100,000 for accidental ingestion of marijuana or edibles. But as The Guardian notes, many of those same pharmaceutical companies manufacture and market opioid painkillers, which are responsible for 150 times as many emergency visits by minors.
Among them are Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories, manufacturers of the opioid painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin.
“We’ve definitely seen a more active opposition from the pharma industry,” Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Guardian. “Research conducted by myself and others shows that medical cannabis patients are substituting cannabis for pharmaceuticals at a very high rate, and for alcohol at a pretty high rate as well.”
One commercial spot, dubbed "Empty Promises," features a woman identified only as "Dr. Davis," who says she's a principal at a school in Colorado.
"Marijuana use among our students soared, often in the form of edibles that look like candy," the woman identified as "Dr. Davis" says in the ad. "Don't believe the false promises, the same thing could happen in Arizona."
But marijuana use remained flat among Colorado teens since the drug was legalized in 2012, according to a June story in the Denver Post that detailed a government survey. A large majority -- 62 percent -- of teens said they'd never used marijuana, while alcohol remained the "drug of choice" among teenagers.
The number of kids who say they used marijuana in the past 30 days actually dipped in 2012, the year the drug was legalized, compared to the previous year, according to a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study cited by Scientific American.
Federal data, released in December of 2015, also found no significant change in marijuana use among teenagers in Washington and Colorado, the first two states to legalize.
Arizona isn't the only state where voters will be asked to make a decision on legalizing marijuana. California's Proposition 64, a similar ballot measure, has the support of almost 60 percent of registered voters, according to the Atlantic. If passed, marijuana taxes in the Golden State would exceed $1.4 billion in the first year of legalization, The Guardian reported.
If California voters legalize marijuana, it would put more pressure on the federal government, analysts say.
“Given California’s size, given its history as the source of legal and illegal marijuana for California and much of the nation, the fact that it’s coming online changes the equation significantly,” Sam Kamin, a professor of marijuana law and policy at the University of Denver, told the newspaper. “It makes it harder for federal prohibition to continue, and I think it accelerates a push for legislative change at the federal level.”