DEA Database Reveals Anti-Cannabis Utah Senate Majority Leader is County’s Largest Opiate Dealer

Angela Bacca
Jul 22 · 5 min read

This article was produced with support from the Cannabis Museum’s Investigative Fund. If you would like to support investigative journalism in the cannabis industry during this pivotal transition please make a donation to the Cannabis Museum- Investigative Fund.

The Washington Post’s release of a DEA database tracking pharmaceutical opiate distribution links key players in both Utah and Ohio’s medical cannabis programs directly to pharmaceutical giant Cardinal Health, the third biggest supplier of pharmaceutical opiates in the nation. Between 2006 and 2012 Cardinal Health supplied 10.7 billion opiate pills, or 14 percent of the national total.

The Post initially requested the release of the database in 2016, but drug companies as well as the DEA and Justice Department challenged the release in court. Last week a judge removed a protective order and allowed the release of the ARCOS database, which tracks every pharmaceutical opiate pill ordered, delivered and prescribed. The database reveals a stunning over saturation of pills in rural America that reflects similarly disproportionate opiate overdose rates.

Cardinal Health is the top distributor to the family-owned pharmacies of Utah state senate majority leader Evan Vickers. The Post’s searchable database reveals that Vickers distributes 34 percent of tiny Iron County’s opiates, more than even Wal-Mart, through two of his Cedar City pharmacies, E J V F LLC and Township Pharmacy aka Bulloch Drug. Like other parts of rural America, the region has been experiencing an alarming increase in heroin overdoses.

Vickers, a pharmacist by trade, has been one of the leading opponents to medical cannabis in Utah since the first attempt to pass a safe access law in the state legislature in 2015. He led efforts to quash or subvert medical cannabis in subsequent years up until a ballot initiative, Proposition 2, qualified for the 2018 election. Amid a contentious political battle ahead of the midterm, Vickers was a key engineer in a “compromise” led by Utah legislators in conjunction with Marty Stephens, lobbyist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Marijuana Policy Project. Patient advocates, specifically TRUCE and Epilepsy Association of Utah (EAU) were barred from the negotiations. Both proponents and opponents of the initiative agreed to cease campaign activities because the legislature held a press conference and promised to “pass something better” in a special session after the election.

READ: How the Utah Legislature Worked with Big Marijuana to Subvert the Will of Voters

Proposition 2 won with 53 percent of the vote and was promptly replaced by House Bill 3001 in a special session a month later. H.B. 3001 is far more restrictive, eliminates most local business opportunity and delays patient access until at least 2021. TRUCE and EAU are now suing the state of Utah over the compromise, and specifically the state’s controversial “Central Fill Pharmacy”, of which Sen. Vickers was a key architect. The Central Fill will grant the state a virtual monopoly over the distribution of cannabis in most of the state through county departments of health.

According to documents released by Mormon Leaks in 2018, the LDS Church owned at least $15 million worth of Cardinal Health shares at that time.

Marijuana Policy Project made a similar “compromise deal” with the Ohio Legislature just two years earlier. The organization used an initiative campaign to leverage the Republican Legislature in 2016 to pass a medical cannabis bill in under a month while Ohio’s governor ran for President of the United States.

Despite the state being hard hit by the opiate epidemic, former Ohio governor John Kasich seemingly gave Cardinal Health undue influence over the advisory rule-making process. Included in Kasich’s appointments to the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee were Marcie Seidel and Tony Coder, both senior representatives at Project SAM, the biggest anti-cannabis lobby in the United States. While Project SAM rightly states that its public donations do not come directly from pharmaceutical companies, its leaders all have strong financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Before being appointed to Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, both Seidel and Coder were (and still are) senior directors of the Drug Free Action Alliance, which receives sustaining donations from Cardinal Health, which influences the board directly through former president Jodie Arreguin.

These anti-drug lobby ties go beyond Cardinal Health and the pharmaceutical industry all the way back to the DEA itself. Kevin Sabet, co-founder and current CEO of Project SAM, is a longtime trustee for the Drug Enforcement Administration Educational Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit that educates the public about the “many costs and consequences of illegal drugs in our society.” The DEA Educational Foundation receives significant funding from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), which like Project SAM’s partner the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA), receives significant funding from the Bayer USA Foundation.

In 2013 CVS, an influential member of NACDS, entered a landmark deal with Cardinal Health to become the “largest generic sourcing entity in the U.S”. As of 2019, CVS is Cardinal Health’s largest customer. Sabet remains an honorary member of the DEA Educational Foundation board while leading the crusade against cannabis. Utah’s Senator Evan Vickers has yet to respond publicly to the Washington Post findings.

This article was produced with support from the Cannabis Museum’s Investigative Fund. If you would like to support investigative journalism in the cannabis industry during this pivotal transition please make a donation to the Cannabis Museum- Investigative Fund.

Angela Bacca

Written by

Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance journalist, author, editor and political strategist. Twitter @angelabacca / angelabacca@gmail.com

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