I should begin by explaining that I have rather strong libertarian, capitalistic tendencies. But when I’m asked about the tobacco industry – yet again to the cannabis industry – I confess to having very mixed feelings. Remember that I was born in 1940. I grew up in the good old days of not a cough and a carload, 9/10 doctors who smoke, recommend… and so on. Back in those days, on the evening news with John Cameron Swayze, he would be smoking while he gave the news. You’d see a little cigarette over there with the smoke rising up, and so on. On the topic of cigarette advertising, when I wrote the article for National Review on why conservatives should support the legalization of marijuana which was in December of 1972, seemed like only yesterday.
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The back cover of the magazine was a full page ad from a cigarette company. People that wrote in the National Review said they were outraged that National Review had a cover urging people to use drugs. I wrote back: “So are you talking about the back cover?” The fact is, the tobacco industry has not exactly been capitalism’s finest hour. They certainly had a lot of accomplices, including the medical profession, the same medical profession that has been perfectly happy to suppress research on cannabinoid medicine until the crazy Reefer Madness people made them do it (otherwise known as the public).
There’s an idea that we should ostracize the tobacco industry. Well, I don’t know if the marijuana world, the cannabis world, can wave a magic wand, pass a law, and kick anybody out of the cannabis business who has been tainted by supporting a really dangerous drug. Do you want to keep out the alcohol industry? Do we only want to have vegans? If we’re going to pick on tobacco, let’s address this in the context of the drug war completely.
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Not to say, “oh, big tobacco is bad.” Yeah, of course it is. So what? We should no more focus on them than we should focus on other elements that are a part of the drug war. In that regard, they have been so hypocritical as to support marijuana prohibition in a way that they are the least worst. All the other players here that we’re looking at in the tobacco industry … For all you could say about it, at least they’re not hypocrites.
Richard Cowan is co-founder of CBD Seniors, and a former National Director of NORML.