it costs about a billion dollars to bring a drug to market
It is a common complaint that the drug companies charge ten dollars for a pill that costs ten cents to make. People forget that it was the second pill that costs ten cents. As you pointed out, it's only the first pill that costs a billion dollars (actual cost may vary). However, the drug companies have a history of inflating the cost long after the development costs have been recovered. In one case, a drug that was used routinely for veterinary purposes for cows that was sold for around ten cents a dose was found to be effective in treating certain forms of cancer in humans. The pill was "re-engineered" (which means the binding agents were modified to allow a new patent to be taken out) and remarketed at 100 times the cost. This is a common practice when patents are about to expire.
So have leeches, and a whole bunch of folk medicine which has been proven to be either useless or harmful.
True, but some of these treatments were based on superstition rather than evidence. Aspirin, for example, was developed as a result of centuries of use (willow bark tea) by native Americans as an effective treatment for pain. It was determined to be an evidence-based rather than anecdotal treatment and the long term effects of its use were easily observable.
taxpayers aren't willing to pay for it
Taxpayers do not pay for drug research unless you count the tax cuts and subsidies that are given to almost all big industries, not just the pharmaceutical industry. There are companies that make billions in profits and still pay negative taxes.
Not really, just a bureaucratic nightmare. There have been lots of experiments using various illegal drugs (cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, pot etc..). Many show promising results -> almost all illegal drugs can be useful as medicines for the right conditions (the question is really are they better than the alternatives?).
For years, heroin was the most effective (in some cases the only effective) drug for treatment of chronic pain in terminal cancer patients. The reason (beyond all belief) given by the government for refusing to make it legal for medical use for these cases was that the patients ran the risk of becoming addicted. Un-freaking-believable. For years, marijuana was by far the most effective anti-nausea treatment for chemotherapy patients but continued to be illegal.
Incidentally, hemp, and also marijuana, was originally outlawed because hemp (easily grown) was a threat to the profits of the pulp and paper industry as well as the newly-founded synthetic fiber and plastics industries.
Although as with all medicines it is preferable to purify the active ingredients rather than use the raw form because it is easier to control the dosage for optimal effect (different cannabis plants have different concentrations of THC so it is hard to determine the exact dosage in a given quantity) and to reduce unwanted side-effects from unnecessary contaminants (e.g. many of the chemicals in cannabis smoke are likely to be carcinogenic like those in tobacco smoke).
It would certainly be preferable to the drug companies who would then charge a premium for the supposed "value added". I have several friends with a long history of recreational use and they have no trouble determining their optimal dose. While marijuana does, indeed, contain some of the same contaminants as tobacco, studies have shown that habitual use may actually increase resistance to lung cancer.
As for tobacco, let's have a look at what the tobacco industry does deliberately (while keeping tobacco use legal)
- they add bronchodilators to enhance nicotine absorption
- they vary the levels of nicotine to increase addiction and use
- they add sugars and acetaldehyde to enhance addiction
- they add ammonia compounds to increase nicotine absorption