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Drug industry swims in Washington's swamp

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

The law, passed in April last year as opioid overdoses topped 200,000, coincided with a sharp rise in reported overdose deaths to a record 19.9 per 100,000 population in the third quarter of 2016 from 16.7 per 100,000 for the same three months a year earlier.

Third, there's money in politics. The drug industry spent $106 million lobbying Congress between 2014 and 2016, the CBS-Post report found, and $1.5 million of that amount went to the 23 lawmakers who sponsored the various versions of the bill. It may be legal, but to swamp watchers it still looks like legal bribery at best, ultimately at great hazard to human lives.

Fourth, nobody in Washington jumps up to take responsibility for the passage of this controversial legislation --and without floor debate. It passed through both houses through a procedure usually reserved for noncontroversial bills, according to the Post. Few besides its sponsors appear to have known what the consequences of the bill would be.

Even when President Obama signed the bill into law, officials told the Post and CBS, his administration was also unaware of its potential impact. That may be true, considering how much presidents and legislators rely on others to read the fine print in bills for them. But the severe consequences of legislation like this, with hundreds of thousands of lives in the balance, call for an investigation of how this scandal happened and how more like it can be avoided.

It is particularly ironic to me that the Justice Department, to which DEA answers, is currently headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has given a rather ill-considered priority to rolling back the clock on marijuana legalization.

Sessions wants to restore federal prosecution of marijuana sales and possession, even in the seven states and the District of Columbia that have voted to legalize it recreationally and 29 states plus the District that have legalized it for medical use.

What a cruel joke. With voters moving in the direction of marijuana legalization, even as many are terrorized by the opiate epidemic, it's time for the feds to put their resources where they will do the most good.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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