Pharmaceutical Companies Fighting the Legalization of Marijuana

The disclosure of funding on the anti-marijuana campaigns is sketchy, but it is wide knowledge that these campaigns are backed by pharmaceutical companies that view marijuana as competition. And while most of these efforts by the drug companies have been mostly covert but evident, they are now taking a more direct approach to fight the legalization of marijuana. 

For example, here’s one article, which notes that lobbying by Big Pharma has long been evident, but says now the efforts have become more direct:

Recently, we saw the first direct evidence that pharmaceutical companies are now working to defeat marijuana legalization efforts, acknowledging that their intent is to protect their market in synthetic opioid drugs.

Earlier this month, Insys Therapeutics Inc., an Arizona-based company, donated $500,000 to a group calling itself Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a newly formed organization established to try to defeat Proposition 205, the marijuana legalization voter initiative that will appear on the ballot this November in that state.

Insys currently markets just one product, Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl spray, a synthetic opioid far more potent than heroin (fentanyl is the drug found in Prince’s system following his death in April).

“Insys Therapeutics made $62 million in net revenue on Subsys fentanyl sales in the first quarter of this year, representing 100 percent of the company’s earnings,” according to The Washington Post. “The CDC has implicated the drug in a ‘surge’ of overdose deaths in several states in recent years.”

Survey data compiled from medical marijuana patients show that subjects often reduce their use of prescription drug therapies — particularly opioids — when they have legal access to cannabis.

According to a 2015 RAND Corp. study, opiate-related abuse and mortality is lower in jurisdictions that permit medical cannabis access, compared to those that outlaw the plant.

When the company first made its half-million dollar contribution to the group opposing the Arizona legalization initiative — the largest single contribution to the group by a factor of four — the company claimed that its reason for opposing the voter initiative was “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens and particularly its children.”

But when the company filed a legally required disclosure statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it acknowledged to shareholders that it was making the donation because it feared a decline in the sales of its powerful opioid product and that of a second drug it is developing: Dranabinol, a synthetic cannabinoid.

Synthetic cannibinoid is a blanket term for an artificial version of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the active compound in the marijuana plant — intended to alleviate chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting. The company concedes that the scientific literature has confirmed the benefits of natural marijuana over synthetic THC

“Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product candidate. … If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced, and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.”


Arkansas
 is a leader in disproportionate use of opioids, a fertile ground for drug companies, in other words. Are they putting money into the campaign led by the Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce to prevent medical use of marijuana in Arkansas. We may never know.

These organizations likely have big enough budgets that their contributions  to the anti-medical marijuana effort won’t trigger the reporting law that, for example, required the nursing home lobby to reveal individual contributions by nursing homes to the campaign to pass the amendment to make it just about impossible to sue nursing homes for abuse and neglect.

Already the anti-campaign has dragged out the argument that existing legal drugs are available that provide the active ingredient in marijuana with equivalent efficacy, something even a drug company acknowledges is not true.

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