By John Schroyer
Longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader delivered both some tough love and an encouraging pat on the back to cannabis industry members during his keynote address at the 2015 Marijuana Business Conference and Expo on Thursday.
In a wide-ranging speech that covered everything from the uses of industrial hemp to how marijuana legalization could affect other arenas of political reform, Nader called cannabis legalization a “massive gift” to the public but also warned against industry corruption.
“Proper regulation is the best aspirin you could ever have, other than marijuana,” Nader said, to a ripple of laughter. “We’ve got to have standards of inspection, for, say, pesticides, for fungus, for rot. We have to have standards of advertising and truth, so we don’t get hit with lawsuits.”
And those standards, he said, must be set at a high level, firmer than those typically set by the International Organization for Standardization.
“You have the opportunity to do it right. There are people in your industry who have said, ‘We have to have regulation. The more uniform, the better,’” Nader said.
On top of that, Nader said it’s important for testing labs to be independent from the companies whose products they test, to ensure proper results and that there’s no possibility for corporate corruption. He pointed to the recent Volkswagen emissions testing scandal as an example of what can happen when a company is allowed to self-regulate.
“Why do you think this happened? It’s because under federal law, they allowed private labs to do the testing,” Nader said. “Watch out for control of these labs by your industry. That’s when the problems are going to start.”
The unifying theme of his address, however, was that the legalization movement can lead to a domino effect that can benefit society as a whole. The war on drugs, Nader said, has been a colossal failure that has ruined countless lives.
“This is the rule of law gone mad. It is pursuing objectives precisely the opposite of what the rule of law should produce. And it’s time to end it, once and for all,” Nader declared to cheers and applause. “It’s important that you broaden the legalization of marijuana as a gift to improve the criminal justice system.”
And with further loosening of marijuana laws may come news and research that could be bad news for the cannabis industry, Nader warned. He urged marijuana professionals not to hide from the truth if, for example, adverse health effects are ultimately linked to cannabis use, and pointed to the black eye the tobacco industry suffered when it tried to cover up research connecting cigarettes to cancer.
“Say what you want about marijuana, but it’s going to be studied a lot more than some of you may like,” Nader said. “Once it’s legalized, the universities are going to be freer to do medical research or impact research. So you really have to have an open attitude.”
The longtime activist also railed against the recent Ohio ballot initiative that attempted – but failed by a wide margin – to install a cannabis oligopoly in the state constitution. Nader called it “unconscionable,” and said it represents the precise opposite way of how marijuana legalization should be pursued.
“To put pay-to-play in an initiative that’s going to be law is a nightmare, and you should never allow that to happen,” he said. “If you’re going to free marijuana, you’ve got to free the people who grow it and the people who sell it, and not put in monopolies and oligopolies.”
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]