Sessions Advisor Ramping up Drug War, Profiting From Drug Tests

Published on February 9, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Dr. Robert DuPont, director of Special Action Office on Drug Abuse, testifies before a Senate Government Operations Committee on Drug Abuse in Washington, June 9, 1975. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin)

The phrase “Green Rush” is often used to describe the flood of fortune seekers pouring into the cannabis industry, a reference to the gold rushes of the 1800s. But you may not be aware of another gold rush happening right now, right under our noses.

Drug testing is a $3 billion industry. With some facilities charging as much as $2,000 per specimin, they call it 'liquid gold.'

I’m talking about “liquid gold”—as it’s known to those in the $3 billion per year drug testing industry, where despite a growing number of states legalizing cannabis, business is currently booming. In fact, for those well positioned to capture that revenue stream, their cups of liquid gold runneth over.

Don’t believe me?

You must not have read a recent New York Times exposé, which revealed just how lucrative urine can be these days. The article profiled one young man—now dead from an overdose—who racked up a $260,000 urinalysis bill in just a few months while rehabbing at an outpatient facility that routinely charged $2,000 or more per specimen for drug tests, with patients often submitting to three or more tests per week.

DuPont, now 81: Testing pioneer, profiteer

According to the Times, industry insiders privately refer to rehab patients who produce that many highly profitable urine specimens as “thoroughbreds.” They’re the lifeblood of a money hustle that began 50 years ago, one that was started almost singlehandedly by Dr. Robert DuPont, former US Drug Czar under Presidents Nixon and Ford, the first-ever Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and a pioneering liquid gold rusher.

DuPont (no relation to the family that founded the chemical company) began his lifelong obsession with human waste in 1969, when the Harvard-trained psychiatrist moved from the National Institutes of Health to the D.C. Department of Corrections. During his time at Corrections, DuPont noticed that many of the inmates placed under his care struggled with heroin addiction. To gauge the scope of the issue, he undertook a study that changed forever how he thought about “the crime problem.”

“I got together a group of unemployed college students,” DuPont explained to Frontline several decades later. “We went down to the D.C. jail with our urine cups, and collected urine from everybody who came into the jail… What we were able to show is that the crime epidemic was directly tied to the rise in heroin addictions in the city. That link was very important to everything that happened afterwards.”

What happened afterwards: The US launched the modern war on drugs, one of the greatest public policy disasters in modern American history. That policy ruined millions of lives, and enriched a handful of entrepreneurs like DuPont.

DuPont: Present at the DEA’s Creation

Perhaps more than anyone alive, Robert DuPont embodies every false promise and failure of America’s oppressive approach to drug policy. He headed an agency (NIDA) that relentlessly cooked the books on medical cannabis research for five decades. He served as Richard Nixon’s drug policy advisor during the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a rogue federal agency that has put generations of otherwise law-abiding cannabis consumers in prison. And he almost singlehandedly popularized the “gateway drug” theory of cannabis, which has since been thoroughly debunked.

At age 81, Robert DuPont is still cashing in on the spoils of the drug war.

DuPont even found a few ways to cash in directly on the spoils of the drug war.

In 1982, he and former DEA Administrator Peter Bensinger founded Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, a firm that provided drug testing services to the growing number of corporations that felt entitled to scrutinize their employees’ urine during the “Just Say No” era. He also served as a paid consultant to Straight Incorporated, a notorious chain of drug treatment centers that targeted predominantly teenage patients for torture-like “therapy.”

The severity and scope of Straight’s malfeasance is staggering. In the late 1980s, California state investigators received complaints about the company systematically subjecting patients, including many minors, to “unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridiule, coercion, threats, mental abuse…and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting.” Eventually a string of government investigations and civil lawsuits alleging widespread physical, psychological and sexual abuse would lead to Straight Incorporated’s downfall, but DuPont never publicly withdrew his support.

And he’s still in the game. At 81, he serves as scientific advisor for CAM International Ventures, a global company started up in 2013 by several big names from the liquid gold racket. Bensinger, DuPont & Associates lives on as BDA/Morneau Shepell, a consulting firm that offers corporate HR departments a “comprehensive portfolio of solutions” that include drug testing management, and helpline services for employees who are suffering from gambling problems, drug addiction, or other behavioral health issues.

Nice Synergy

Naturally, DuPont denies that his financially rewarding drug testing business in any way informs his belief that what the world needs now is more drug testing.

“I find it bizarre [that people] think my interests after all these years were financial,” he told The Daily Beast. “There is a financial incentive in drug testing, but the reason I’m interested in drug testing is that there is an interest from the disease standpoint.”

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Many studies have found drug testing in the workplace, for welfare recipients, and for students to be an expensive and invasive waste of resources. But why should that deter the guy selling the tests? And really, given all the threats facing the cannabis industry these days, who cares if some relic from the Nixon braintrust is riding out his golden years making bank off liquid gold and spouting tired old nonsense? It’s not like he’s helping set national cannabis policy.

Or rather…hold on.

Look closely at this photograph:

Photo courtesy of Marijuana Moment

That’s US Attorney General Jeff Sessions walking out of a closed door policy session, late last year, with a group of longtime cannabis legalization opponents. The agenda of the Dec. 2017 meeting was meant to be secret, but Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell saw this photo online. Angell enhanced it and caught the US Attorney General inadvertently leaking the details of his own strategy sesh. Third on the agenda: Bob DuPont.

In addition to DuPont, the agenda listed a murderers row of ancient drug war hawks who haven’t updated their views on cannabis since 1973:

  • Dr. Bertha Madras, a longtime opponent of medical cannabis in any form.
  • Dr. Hoover Adger, who likes to say “medical marijuana is an oxymoron.”
  • David Evans, executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition. Evans has long argued that regulated legalization “will mean millions more damaged young people,” despite data that clearlyshows cannabis use among minors unchanged or decreasing in states that legalize and regulate.

But even awash in that sea of has-beens and know-nothings, DuPont’s name stood out as particularly ominous.

Because what if the post-legalization future of cannabis isn’t a law enforcement crackdown? What if you’re free to smoke all the heavily-taxed legal cannabis you want, so long as you never drive a car, attend school, raise a child, hold a job, access medical care, or require government assistance of any kind?

Drug Test is a ‘Loyalty Oath’

As a co-founder and charismatic leader of the Yippies, Abbie Hoffman spent the late 1960s and early 1970s trying to foment social and political upheaval. Like many of his cohorts, he saw cannabis liberation as a central goal of the revolution.

By the 1980s, that moment may have passed, but Hoffman remained a radical at heart, and he’d identified a new fascistic threat to liberty and justice. So he wrote Steal This Urine Test: Fighting Drug Hysteria in America, as a follow up to his underground classic Steal This Book.

Asked by the New York Times in 1987 to explain his motivations for focusing on the issue, Hoffman likened being forced to take a drug test to the “loyalty oaths” in communist Russia. He saw it as a raw expression of authoritarian power over individual freedom, rather than some rationed approach to dealing with addiction.

“There is a drug problem in America,” Hoffman explained, “and it is, how does one educate one’s children about the drug problem.”

It all sounds so simple when you strip away the lies and propaganda and just examine the actual problem on its own terms.

As a society, we want to minimize the damage caused by drug abuse, especially the harm to children. Pretty simple. So how, exactly, do we get from there to no-knock police raids and pee tests for $2,000 a pop?

The answer, perversely, is that SWAT teams, mass incarceration and near-constant urinalysis all cost way, way more money than educating our children about drugs in an honest and meaningful way. And because those things cost a lot of money, there’s a tidy profit to be made off them, whether they’re effective approaches or not.

Which brings us back to Robert Dupont.

DuPont’s New Proposal: Test Everyone

At the December meeting with Jeff Sessions, DuPont was slated to speak on the dangers of drugged driving. That’s troubling because in 2010 he helped write a model bill that instructed law enforcement to drug test anyone suspected of drugged driving on the spot, for all illicit drugs, and arrest them immediately if even a trace amount shows up.

If DuPont had his way, you wouldn’t even have to be driving to face arrest for a failed drug test.

DuPont’s policy would result in the roadside arrest of legal cannabis consumers in the eight legal states, even unimpaired drivers, because roadside tests typically turn up inactive traces of THC from days or weeks earlier. In fact, if DuPont had his way, you wouldn’t even have to be driving to face arrest for a failed drug test.

“Any person who provides a bodily fluid sample containing any amount of a chemical or controlled substance… commits an offense punishable in the same manner as if the person otherwise possessed that substance,” stated the proposed bill. “This provision is not a DUI specific law. Rather, it applies to any person who tests positive for chemical or controlled substances.”

Early last year, the Daily Beastinterviewed DuPont as he talked up his most recent proposal, a “New Paradigm for Long-Term Recovery.” DuPont described it as “the opposite of harm reduction.” That plan calls for drug tests to be a mandatory, routine part of every medical practice and procedure—and many other aspects of daily life.

If a drug test shows you’re an “addict” (the verdict even if you have only trace amounts of state-legal cannabis in your urine), you’ll be arrested, and “the leverage of the criminal justice system” will be used to force you into rehab. There, you’ll be drug tested for another five years (ca-ching!).

In effect, DuPont’s proposal would do for rehab centers what mandatory-minimum sentences did for prisons—exponentially expand their populations and turn them into corporate profit machines. He wants to put a multimillion-dollar bounty on the head of every cannabis consumer in America. And he’s got the ear of the same U.S. Attorney General who recently revived federal for-profit prisons and rescinded the Cole Memo.

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David Bienenstock
David Bienenstock
Veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock is the author of "How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" (2016 - Penguin/Random House), and the co-host and co-creator of the podcast "Great Moments in Weed History with Abdullah and Bean." Follow him on Twitter @pot_handbook.
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