Marijuana’s Biggest Enemy Is Not Jeff Sessions–It’s Big Pharma
Like most grassroots movements, cannabis legalization has its own bogeymen–nebulous entities backed by kings and queens of industry who are as feared as they are loathed. Big Tobacco is in there, of course, as are the corrections and law enforcement industries. But as marijuana gains legitimate footing as a bonafide medicine accepted by top health associations and medical journals–most notably as treatment for chronic and neuropathic pain–legalization’s biggest villain is, perhaps, the well-heeled pharmaceutical industry.
Activists’ worst fears about this David-versus-Goliath scenario have come true over the last six months. Recent news could very well represent a tipping point in Big Pharma’s quest to squash voter-approved pot-legalizing initiatives while preserving the medical marijuana market for its own products: pills and sprays made of synthetic cannabis components such as THC and CBD.
This story begins in the months leading up to the 2016 election, when campaign finance records showed a major infusion of cash–$500,000–into the organization opposing Arizona’s recreational marijuana initiative. According to Ballotpedia data, the donation was one of the largest individual contributions to any anti-legalization campaign in history. The Arizona-based company that donated the money, Insys Therapeutics, is best known for Subsys, a powerful fentanyl-based spray approved as a painkiller for cancer patients. As for Subsys’ primary ingredient, the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes fentanyl as “a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.” It is highly addictive and potentially deadly. (Prince fatally overdosed on fentanyl in April of last year.)
In November, Arizona was one of nine states voting on marijuana legalization measures. Some initiatives were shoe-ins, including Proposition 64 in neighboring California, while others, such as measures in Arkansas and North Dakota, were up for grabs. But Americans woke up on November 9 to the news that there would soon be eight newly legal cannabis markets scattered throughout the country. Nearly all of the initiatives had passed, and weed’s major storylines that morning included a behemoth of a legal market in California, the first recreational laws on the East Coast in Maine and Massachusetts, and a Bible Belt surprise in the form of a medically legal Arkansas. The only measure that didn’t pass on election day? Arizona, where Prop 205 was narrowly defeated in a 51-49 percent split.
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