Addiction Pirates: How Companies Have Turned Prohibition into a Cash Cow

Plunder. This is an old fashioned term. Often associated with piracy, it means stealing things by force. Piracy is a loaded term, but in real-life (as opposed to movies, fiction, Halloween costumes and other forms of popular entertainment) it’s just another form of organized crime.

In the mid-20th Century, a new form of plunder was recognized, and the term “white-collar” crime entered the popular consciousness. In terms of social and economic justice, this is probably one of the most important developments in recent history. A simple definition of white-collar crime is “theft at a distance.” Modern day identity theft is a good example—no need for force, some hacker half-way round the world gets your digital codes and empties your bank account.

Another form of modern day plunder is fraud, and taking it a step further, consider it’s savvy cousin—deceptive advertising. Here we get products that may or may not really perform as advertised, but the sales pitch sounds good.

The “addiction pirates” of the old millennium used prohibition like the slickest of con artists to extract cash from the economy. The con was to over-hype a problem and then rake in the cash with highly developed marketing and sales campaigns promising to cut a man down to size.

For example, prohibition advocates like to cite the increase in drug treatment admissions for marijuana abuse as evidence of the social harm caused by marijuana, and therefore justifying continued arrests for marijuana use. They don’t tell the public that half or more of those treatment referrals come from the criminal justice system—primarily as a condition of probation or as an alternative to jail time.

The use of prohibition as a cash cow is old news. Increased funding for anti-drug task forces, selling drug treatment programs for people who don’t have addiction problems, funding for educational programs supported by local law enforcement but have no proven effectiveness (e.g. the DARE program)—these and other examples litter the landscape of the war against marijuana for the last 50 years.

But that’s the old millennium. Who are the “addiction pirates” of the new millennium?

There are, of course, numerous advocacy organizations opposing marijuana’s legalization. They really don’t belong in this conversation. They get a pass, up to a point, because of due deference to free speech. That, however, is where profiteering begins. Perhaps privateering is a better term—a label applied to pirates working for the state, piracy in service to governmental objectives. So, back to plunder and extracted profits.

Consider the following products, and consider them at face value. Assume they are all honest and faithful attempts to provide the service, function or value they offer (as there is no evidence otherwise.)

The Easy@Home Marijuana (thc) Single Panel Drug Tests Kit is an FDA-approved product that is 99 percent accurate and ideal for drug testing at home, work, school, criminal justice settings or substance abuse rehabilitation centers. A pack of 15 tests is only $10.99 plus shipping.

There’s also the 10 Pack of Instant Marijuana Test Kits from Drug Abuse Control. These are also FDA approved and available for $6.95. The manufacturer also sells various hair and saliva drug testing kits.

Need a helping hand to control your marijuana use? There’s Cannitrol, a specially blended formula with several natural herbs to help control mood swings and improve alertness.

“As any marijuana user knows, naturally occurring compounds can be quite effective,” Cannitrol’s website explains.

A 90-count bottle of capsules is only $24.99. The statements made on their site have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and their product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Another product is the B.N.G. Herbal Clean Detox Q Tabs Maximum Strength Cleansing Formula from OxKom. This product claims to be the most potent detox formula available in tablets. List price for ten tablets is $25.14. Their product has also not been evaluated by the FDA.

This product appears to be discreetly directed at people facing urine tests for drug use, with well-placed consumer feedback about washing out drug metabolites. (The metabolites detected by urine tests for marijuana persist in the body for approximately 28 days regardless of flushing strategies.)

Is cannabis having too much of an influence on your life? Mark Bowden wants to sell you a CD with a hypnotherapy recording—the Overcome Cannabis Cravings Hypnosis CD—because “Pot, weed, marijuana, skunk, herb, whatever you call it, you’ll be much better off without it and this hypnotherapy recording will make sure you are.”  You can have this product for only $16.97.

On the other hand, there is also the Marijuana Addiction Treatment Subliminal CD, available for the slightly lower price of $15.97.

All of these products represent an interesting cultural shift in how Americans seek to profit from a critical appraisal of marijuana’s presence in the cultural landscape. Sanction and cure remains at the heart of this response, and it’s a sign that the good ole American approach to commercialization of any opportunity remains alive and well.

The “addiction pirates” of the old millennium remain alive and well; just note the opposition of police departments, prison guards and the drug treatment industry to marijuana’s legalization, as well as the role of federal grant money in subsidizing state and local drug law enforcement programs.

The “addiction pirates” of the new millennium, though, are also on the move. They take a kinder and gentler approach to commercializing the demonizing of marijuana use. But they face a tremendous obstacle toward future success, and one they share with their forerunners. Their market is shrinking, fading and falling apart at the seams.

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