Sinister Substitutes

Major anti-pot campaign funder lands DEA approval of THC drug amidst flurry of lawsuits

Ethics is a hazy argument when it comes to marijuana.

On one hand, opponents of legalization argue that the plant is harmful to society and individuals, and therefore should not be used. "Good people don't smoke marijuana," remember?

On the other, little evidence exists to show that marijuana was even made illegal on ethical grounds, and thousands of individuals' lives are affected by simple possession of a joint, regardless of context.

At least when it comes to medical marijuana we seem to be able to find some common ground. If people prefer to medicate with a pill instead of a plant, then that's their prerogative. What possible controversy could be wrapped up in that?

Well, what happens when private interest starts interfering with public choice?

The misinformation peddled by the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy—often leading back to opinion or a single Colorado report with seemingly the only "evidence" of the negative effects of marijuana—likely had a role in the failure of Proposition 205.

Their propaganda campaign, rooted in loose logic and stretched statistics, had some sketchy funding ties. The first major donation to the campaign—one of three in amounts more than half a million dollars—came from Chandler-based pharmaceutical company, Insys Therapeutics.

With that donation, the Arizona anti-marijuana campaign lost the ethical argument. The DEA recently awarded Insys preliminary approval for a synthetic marijuana drug called Syndros, as if they couldn't pick a name that didn't sound like a Marvel supervillain.

The DEA gave Syndros a Schedule II classification, indicating it believes the synthetic marijuana derivative is safer than the natural plant itself.

Insys has been petitioning the DEA for approval of their drug since before the campaign for legal pot in Arizona, hence their massive donation, which amounted to roughly 10 percent of the ARDP's funding.

If it weren't enough that Insys's resources so heavily influenced the political process, the company was also recently wrapped in a legal suit that resulted in the termination of six top-level employees, including its CEO.

The company was found guilty of illegally (and unethically) pushing its opioid drug, Subsys, on patients it wasn't meant to treat.

At least one lawsuit has been filed against Insys for the wrongful death of a woman whose parents claim the company's insistence on using Subsys lead to her death.

This is what the future of medical marijuana looks like in the hands of big pharmaceutical companies whose priority isn't safety or health, but cold, hard cash.

In the real medical marijuana industry, professionals are more concerned in doing what's right for the patient, because what's right for them is often right for the pocketbooks. If a dispensary helps a patient find the right strain, they'll find a customer for life, and people seem to like the all-natural stuff, these days.

In Insys's case, what's right for the patient probably isn't the unnecessary prescription of drugs known to lead to addiction and death.

The continual controversy surrounding Insys highlights the need to open the flood gates on the marijuana industry to compete against special interests. Sure, legalization will likely result in large, nationwide marijuana conglomerates, but for now at least, they won't be tied to such unethical business practices.

At the very least, regulators should be leery of Insys's motives, as should Arizona voters the next time legalization heads to the ballot.

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