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When you pull up a mental image of an anti-cannabis activist, you may well picture an older, conservative voter who is simply fearful of the potential consequences of legalization. However, according to a recent report by The Guardian (Inside Big Pharma’s Fight to Block Recreational Marijuana), this image of the anti-cannabis crusader may be misguided.

Today, the biggest defender of the status quo when it comes to cannabis prohibition may well the pharmaceutical industry.

The most visible salvo in this war on cannabis has been a recent spate of television advertisements in Arizona, where residents will be considering Proposition 205 on November’s ballot. The measure would allow for the operation of recreational cannabis retail outlets and individual possession of up to one ounce of cannabis.

According to Arizona’s East Valley Tribune, current polls place support for the measure at 50%, with 8% undecided and 42% opposed. But the opposition has been buoyed by a spate of recent anti-cannabis advertisements and this represents a shift of undecided voters to the ‘no’ camp over the past few weeks.

As reported by The Guardian, these advertisements have largely been funded by Insys Therapeutics. With a $500,000 contribution to the ‘no’ campaign, the pharmaceutical company has become its single largest supporter. Although the anti Proposition 205 advertisements emphasize safety concerns, many suspect that altruism may not be the only motivation behind the Insys contribution.

In 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found that states with legal medical cannabis saw a 25% drop in opiate overdoses compared to those in which all possession was illegal. Insys produces Subsys, a Fentanyl derived synthetic opioid painkiller. It’s not difficult to imagine that Insys may be doing their best to use prohibition to keep the market place clear of competitors.

Echoes of this tactic can be seen at the national level. Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, and Abbot Laboratories, maker of Vicodin, are two of the largest contributors to the Anti-Drug Coalition of America, a group that opposes recreational cannabis use.

Though it may be disheartening to observe profits prioritized of patients, this attack by big pharma may indicate a positive shift in the broader national debate around cannabis prohibition. When the greatest opposition to legal cannabis is grounded not in principled opposition but in the search for profits, advocates can point to a significant win in the battleground of public perception.

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