As marijuana legalization crossed the US in November, Arizona was in its rejection of legal pot. There, a pharmaceutical company called Insys was a major backer of the successful effort to prevent the state’s recreational cannabis measure, openly asserting that marijuana businesses would be detrimental for public health and endanger children.

But to marijuana activists, the objective of Insys was clear – to crush the competition.

Affirming those suspicions, Insys has now received approval from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to develop its own synthetic marijuana, the most recent instance of Big Pharma combating small cannabis growers.

With marijuana now legal in over half of the US, longtime underground players and the budding cannabis industry have grown increasingly worried concerning the risk presented by powerful pharmaceutical manufacturers, which have concurrently helped fight legalization while seeking to develop their very own synthetic cannabis.

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

The Insys case gives a stark example of what cannabis leaders say is the unethical and dangerous standing of the pharmaceutical sector in marijuana – fighting to block a plant that in some situations has turned out to become an effective, safer and more affordable option to prescription drugs that are addictive.

Big Pharma’s support of groups fighting recreational marijuana have been well recorded in the past couple of years. But Insys’s quest of synthetic cannabis indicates the start of another type of danger as well as a possibly longer-term barrier drug companies could present if they seek to corner the market as marijuana laws inevitably propagate across the nation.

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

Insys, contributed $500,000 to the anti-legalization campaign in Arizona last year, marking one of the biggest ever single contributions to a marijuana opposition campaign.

On 23 March, less than five months after Arizona’s marijuana measure failed, Insys declared that the DEA had given the green light for the launching of Syndros, its cannabinoid designed to treat chemotherapy patients fighting with nausea and Aids patients with anorexia.

The drug is a laboratory-made liquid form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a vital chemical compound in cannabis. It’s distinct from the street synthetic marijuana referred to as K2 or Spice, which generally involves substances sprayed on to plants and has really been associated with overdoses and deaths.

The approval has triggered furious backlash from cannabis activists, who contend that Insys has helped prevent the very kind of treatment that it is now on track to market.
What’s more, Insys additionally manufacturers fentanyl, a painkiller that’s 50 times more powerful than heroin and has a fatal history. In December, six former Insys executives were detained for allegedly bribing physicians to prescribe fentanyl to patients who didn’t need it.

Insys’s association together with the opiate crisis makes its attempts to thwart regulated marijuana use all the more alarming, critics said.

Over the years, donors linked with drug rehab and treatment facilities backed anti-cannabis measures, drawing similar accusations of hypocrisy considering marijuana’s potential to treat opioid dependence.

The present legal grey area makes it challenging for marijuana operations that fight with an extensive range of hurdles, for example law enforcement struggles, banking challenges and contradictory laws. But present marijuana limitations are excellent for pharmaceutical companies which have infrastructure and the resources to navigate Food and Drug Administration approvals.

Existing dispensaries, meanwhile, are usually “mom and pop shops”. They don’t have drug representatives. They don’t have the budgets that these big pharma have. Bigger pharmaceutical companies may wind up purchasing dispensaries in the foreseeable future.