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Big Pharma steps up to oppose recreational weed initiative

A couple weeks ago, we took a look at opioid use and prescription in Arizona and how states have seen a decrease in opioid overdoses after legalizing medical marijuana ("An MMJ Win," Sept. 1).

Well, now it seems one such manufacturer of a fentanyl-based drug is concerned about recreational marijuana interfering with its future business plans.

Insys Therapeutics plans to roll out a new line of THC medicine in the near future and decided to donate $500,000 to the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy to aid the opposition of Prop 205.

The Chandler-based Insys seems to be concerned that revenue from their new manufactured THC spray called Syndros would a take quite a blow from a cheaper recreational alternative.

As if vested financial interest isn't enough, Insys is also currently under investigation in four states, including Arizona, for unethical practices in soliciting their prescription opioid, Subsys, which have allegedly resulted in patient deaths.

J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the campaign that has been the driving force behind Prop 205, said that the ARDP is undermining its claim of responsible drug policy by accepting the donation from a company under investigation for irresponsible drug policy.

"They're knowingly accepting money from one of the worst actors in the business," Holyoak said at a Phoenix news conference on Sept. 8. "This is a company engaged in illegal marketing schemes that is intentionally hooking people on opioids."

Much of the opposition campaign's donations can be traced back to Gov. Doug Ducey, who has purportedly been making phone calls to request donations to the ARDP, such as in the case of Microchip Technology CEO Steve Sanghi, who made a $25,000 contribution in May.

Other major contributors include the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry—which also signed on as a plaintiff in the failed lawsuit against Prop 205—with more than $120,000 in donations to date.

Randy Kendrick, wife of Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, has donated $100,000.

Still, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has managed to far outraise the opposition with more than $3 million in donations as of Aug. 26, while ARDP had only managed a little more than $950,000. However, proponents also had the added expense of paying for petition signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, which cut into the amount they have to spend on persuading voters.

The donation from Insys is by far the largest donation the opposition campaign has received and will push their piggy bank to about half of what CRMLA has raised.

While funding is not the best indication of what voters will ultimately decide on a ballot measure, we mentioned last week that Arizonans are pretty split on legalization with 50 percent for it, 40 percent against it and 10 percent undecided.

Additionally, there are some supporters of legalization that do not support Prop 205, which could spell out bad news for the proposition's prospects. Some are planning on holding out for a possible future initiative including decriminalization and offering greater freedom for new dispensaries.

But with the immense expense of sending an initiative to the ballot, it isn't clear when Arizona will get another chance to follow in the footsteps of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

While the passage of Prop 205 could result in stringent regulations that affect shops that sell paraphernalia and municipalities left with the option of prosecuting users under federal law, failure to pass the initiative will result in the continuation of Arizona's policy of incarceration for low-level drug offenses.

As of yet, this isn't an easy decision for proponents of legalization, which just might be Prop 205's downfall.

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