A potentially explosive report detailing the distribution of pharmaceutical opiates reveals a disturbing connection between Utah’s anti-medical cannabis movement and the pharmaceutical industry. Specifically, one of the state’s leading anti-legalization policymakers is also one of the state’s biggest seller of opiates.
The revelation has sparked outrage among medical marijuana patients and advocates, and has intensified ongoing tensions surrounding Utah’s controversial medical marijuana laws.
New Stats About Opiates Made Public
Recently, the Washington Post released a trove of federal data related to the distribution of pharmaceutical opiates across the country. Specifically, the searchable database tracks who is selling opiates and how much they’re selling.
The stats unveil a number of problematic trends. For starters, the database shows that the country’s pharmaceutical companies have sold 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills between 2006 and 2012. During that same time period, roughly 100,000 people have died from complications related to opiates and opiate addiction.
Additionally, the publication of the database has spurred in-depth searches and analyses, one of which found that Utah Senate Majority Leader—and top anti-cannabis lawmaker—Evan Vickers is one of the state’s biggest sellers of opiates.
As a result, legalization advocates are calling foul. And some of Utah’s top activists are demanding that Vickers recuse himself from all legislation related to marijuana.
“When we saw the outrageous numbers of opiates that Vickers is dispensing, it was alarming to all of us,” Christine Stenquist, Founder and Executive Director of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE), told High Times. “Even more alarming is that this man is trying to prohibit cannabis from coming into the state. And we’ve seen in states where there is cannabis, that there’s a decline in pharmaceuticals, especially opiates.”
Vickers: Leading Opiate Seller and Anti-Cannabis Lawmaker
According to researcher and writer Angela Bacca, Vickers, who owns a chain of pharmacies in southern Utah, distributes 34 percent of all opiates in Utah’s rural Iron County. Vickers’ two Cedar City pharmacies sell even more opiates than massive national chains like Wal-Mart.
For many medical marijuana advocates in Utah, the sheer number of opiates sold by Vickers is alarming enough. But to make things even worse, it turns out that Vickers has been a leading voice in the fight against medical marijuana in Utah.
Specifically, he was the sponsor of the controversial H.B. 3001. This medical marijuana bill was rammed through in a special legislative session in December 2018, just two days after a voter-approved initiative went into effect.
In 2018, a medical marijuana bill called Proposition 2 qualified for the ballot. But long before voters had a chance to vote, powerful forces in Utah began working against Proposition 2.
Specifically, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church or the LDS Church. For starters, the church formally opposed the initiative. Further, church leaders sent a letter to members urging them to vote no. Given that roughly 62 percent of Utahns—including the huge majority of lawmakers—are Mormon, the LDS Church has significant political sway.
Alongside publicly speaking out against Proposition 2, Mormon Church representatives began meeting with lawmakers to draft a “compromise bill,” which ultimately became H.B. 3001. And Vickers was the bill’s floor sponsor.
“They’ve put up roadblocks, excuses, and weak-kneed legislation,” Stenquist told High Times. “Policymakers have made very confusing policy and it’s just not where we need it to be. And I believe it’s special interests that drive our policies. What I’m concerned about is that special interests are making profit at the expense of our communities.”
Utah’s Medical Marijuana Controversy: The Newest Chapter
H.B. 3001 has drawn significant backlash from medical marijuana patients and activists. For starters, TRUCE and other medical marijuana advocates have filed a lawsuit against the state.
Among other things, the suit claims that the Mormon Church exerted unlawful influence over the lawmaking process, culminating in the quick replacement of the voter-approved Proposition 2.
Additionally, many advocates say that H.B. 3001 is far too restrictive. In particular, according to Stenquist, it limits the number of dispensaries and the number of patients to whom a doctor can recommend medical marijuana.
“Vickers is behind this restrictiveness for patients,” Stenquist told High Times. “This is all motivated because Vickers is protecting his bottom line. This is a clear conflict of interest. Special interest legislators like Vickers are writing policies that better their particular industry and put money in their own pockets. That has to stop.”
She added: “We need to lower our dependency on pharmaceutical drugs and cannabis is one of the tools that can do that. But Vickers does not want to harm his bottom line.”
In light of the news about Vickers’ opiate activities, Stenquist is calling on him to recuse himself from all marijuana-related legislation. It is unclear what, if any, legal action TRUCE or other groups may pursue. But for now, the suit filed earlier this year remains ongoing.