Despite an increasing number of states approving measures to legalize marijuana, the Federal Government has not budged from its stance on the flower. Their party line, of course, is that weed is dangerous and should remain illegal. Yet, in March 2017, the Federal Government’s Drug Enforcement Agency approved a synthetic drug which many call a “fake weed,” created by a company that staunchly opposed marijuana legalization in Arizona last year. This is our collective surprised face.
The pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics gave $500,000 in 2016 to a group called Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which led the fight against marijuana legalization in the sunset state. According to the Washington Post, Insys was the sole pharmaceutical company to donate funds toward the opposition of marijuana legalization. We may now know their motive: they wanted to make their own weed, and patent it for commercial sale!
“…commercial-stage specialty pharmaceutical company that develops and commercializes innovative supportive care and therapeutic products.”
The drug Insys created—and which the DEA recently approved—is called Syndros. It bears similar effects to THC, the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant that gets you stoned and affects your appetite and stomach behavior. The DEA approved the drug to treat afflictions that many doctors already use pot to alleviate: nausea, weight loss and vomiting—especially when related to AIDS and cancer treatment. The DEA placed Syndros in what’s known as “Schedule II” of the Controlled Substances Act, implying it has a high potential for abuse, whereas marijuana is placed in “Schedule I,” effectively labelling it as more dangerous than Syndros.
Insys bills themselves as a “commercial-stage specialty pharmaceutical company that develops and commercializes innovative supportive care and therapeutic products.” Their recently approved product, Syndros, is administered orally in a liquid form. It’s part of the pharmaceutical family known as “cannabinoid dronabinol,” meaning it is a laboratory-born THC product. Their hope, one might imagine, is to sell the idea that a drug created in a lab is better than one grown from the ground. During the vote, Insys said it opposed the measure because it didn’t “protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.” Ah, yes, that familiar argument. Won’t somebody think of the children?
Insys vigorously opposed the legalization of marijuana in their home state—a measure that failed by a margin of only 52 to 48—effectively depriving patients of much-needed medical cannabis assistance. The very same assistance Insys presumably hopes to provide if and when Syndros is approved for commercial use. The $500,000 the company donated presumably affected those four percentage points of the vote, and the money amounted to 10% of the entire budget for Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. (Let’s try to imagine how fun their victory party was for a second. Was it one sad piñata, some Swiss cheese and a bunch of people gleefully imagining a state where no one smoked weed? Quick, someone get these people some Syndros!). It seems like a good time to reiterate that if you are found in possession of under two pounds of marijuana in Arizona—whether that’s a dime bag, or 1.99 pounds—you can face four months to two years in jail, and a fine of up to $150,000. Who wants to go to the Grand Canyon?!
The DEA’s approval of Syndros will inevitably lead to the company commercially producing the stuff sooner rather than later. And the new synthetic, weed-like substance will join similar—though perhaps more commercially available—products like K2 and Spice, which are sold in head shops and corner stores around the country. According to The New York Times, 33 people were suspected of overdosing on synthetic weed in Brooklyn in 2016. To date, no one has ever reported an overdose from organic marijuana.