Bootleggers and Baptists Part XII: Dual-Role Actors on Both Sides of Proposition 205 (Arizona, 2016)

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Back in 2016, election cycle Proposition 205 (Arizona) sought to establish a regulated market for recreational Marijuana. The measure failed to pass by a slim margin. Expounding upon the strategic flaws of the ballot question has already been thoroughly exhausted by local commentators.  What truly is interesting in retrospectively analyzing this failed legalization campaign was the coalition building. These strategic alliances were forged on both sides of the aisle.  Everyone from puritanical prohibitionists to cannabis aficionados teamed up with orthogonal allies to hedge their bets on achieving their desired policy outcome. Naturally the formulation of such coalitions invariable leads to Bootlegger and Baptists policy dynamics. By the very nature of regulations and policy decisions, someone stands to gain and someone stands to lose. Government action is never neutral. Even inadvertently a policy can provide a downstream benefit to an invested interest group. Sometimes these concentrated benefits are nontangible. Such as a positive public image or gaining notoriety. As the great moral philosopher, Adam Smith reminds social incentives to present us with powerful motives.

One of the more predictable opponents of legalization would be manufactures of prescription painkillers. Insys Therapeutic donated $500,000.00 to the 2016 opposition campaign in Arizona. Insys is a well-known producer of opioid-based medications. Their true motivations are somewhat puzzling.  Medical Marijuana was legalized back in 2010 which would have been a golden opportunity time for funding opposition. This could potentially be a strategic form of revenge. A thinly veiled attempt at settling a score with the Marijuana dispensaries that cost them business.  Why? Because the medical dispensaries would be among the first economic actors to enter the recreational market. It would take much in the way of resources to make a transition to selling both medical and recreational cannabis. In theory, this institutional form of retaliation would provide the benefit of instinct satisfaction to upper management within Insys. This theory assumes little to no economic benefit from this action.

An alternate theory could be Insys does finically benefit from keeping recreational Marijuana illegal. This move could signify a circuitous acknowledgment of the black-market for prescription painkillers. Whether big pharma wants to admit or not, recreational users do make up a portion of their profits. Their main customers need to operate as mid-level distribution. Either through an unscrupulous physician prescribing opioid narcotics to recreational users or through patients reselling the medications on the secondary market. Through going attacking recreational Marijuana they can protect their indirect profits made through the demand on the illicit secondary market.  Opioids are already in competition with alcohol, tobacco, kratom, Salvia Divinorum, and potentially marijuana. By eliminating a whole category of legal and accessible options they gain a slightly larger share of the quasi-legal American intoxicant market.

The question becomes whether this specific economic agent is a Bootlegger or a Baptist. They are unquestionably both. The company possesses some sort of murky incentive for keeping recreational marijuana illegal. Making them a Bootlegger. They assume the role Baptist when publicly justifying their generous donation to the counter-campaign. Citing the danger of marijuana to children. Also, expounding upon the dangers of ingesting substances that do not have FDA approval. All of these are arguments are laughable when you think about the pharmacological risks of the products Insys manufactures. Regardless, assuming good faith on the part of the firm, it is still a moral argument. Which may or may not be factually accurate. For this reason, they are a Dual-Role Actor.

In this scenario, there is another Dual-Role Actor that is on the other side of the fence. That would be the media. Numerous publications pick-up with this story and ran with it. Function as a Baptist through exposing the callous self-interest of pharmaceutical companies. This provides the appearance of a moral crusader who is attempting to reveal how big business attempts to manipulate the system. However, this public service is not done out of pure altruism. Media organizations are frequently willing to dispense with accuracy to be the first outlet to break a news story. Editors often do not focus on important stories but rather those that captivate their viewers/readers. Making news outlets more of a vehicle for entertainment than obtaining information. The best means of gaining and retaining viewership in an age where mainstream media is currently on life support is through sowing outrage.  Exploiting the public’s salient bias against corporations is a great means of generating click-bait worthy headlines.  Utilizing this tactic becomes much more imperative when your industry is presently clinging to life on a shoddy ventilator. The Schumpeterian gales are presently gusting. The creative destruction of alternative media is drawing many viewers away from FOX News and CNN.