Legal Marijuana’s Biggest Enemy Is Big Pharma

Marijuana’s Biggest Enemy Is Not Jeff Sessions–It’s Big Pharma

A huge drug company is going after legal Marijuana. 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.

As marijuana legalization swept the US in November, Arizona was alone in its rejection of legal weed. There, a pharmaceutical company called Insys was a major backer of the successful campaign to stop the state’s recreational cannabis measure, publicly arguing that pot businesses would be bad for public health and endanger children.

But to marijuana activists, the motive of Insys was clear – to squash the competition. Confirming those suspicions, Insys has now received approval from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to develop its own synthetic marijuana, the latest case of Big Pharma battling small cannabis growers.

Powerful pharmaceutical manufacturers

With marijuana now legal in more than half of the US, the budding cannabis industry and longtime underground players have grown increasingly concerned about the threat posed by powerful pharmaceutical manufacturers, which have simultaneously helped fight legalization while seeking to develop their own synthetic cannabis.

“I really don’t have a lot of hope for the small guy in this country,” said Dr Gina Berman, medical director of the Giving Tree Wellness Center, a cannabis dispensary in Phoenix, Arizona. “Pharmaceuticals are going to run me down. We have a small business, and we can’t afford to fight Big Pharma.”

The Insys case provides a stark illustration of what cannabis leaders say is the unethical and harmful position of the pharmaceutical industry in marijuana – fighting to block a plant that in some cases has proven to be an effective, safer and cheaper alternative to addictive prescription drugs.

Big Pharma’s support of groups opposing recreational weed have been well documented in recent years. But Insys’s pursuit of synthetic cannabis signals the beginning of a different kind of threat and a potentially longer-term obstacle drug companies could pose if they seek to corner the market as weed laws inevitably spread across the country.

“We’ve got these pharmaceutical companies that are using their lobbying power to bring something to market that people can grow in their home,” said JP Holyoak, a marijuana dispensary owner and cultivator in Arizona, who chaired the state’s legalization campaign last year. “They recognize that the horse has left the barn regarding marijuana. They can’t beat it, so now they’re trying to just take it over.”

Insys, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment, donated $500,000 to the anti-legalization campaign in Arizona last year, marking one of the largest ever single contributions to a pot opposition campaign, according to the Washington Post.


[1] Washington Post [2] Esquire