Is Big Pharma for or Against Legalizing Medical Marijuana? Maybe Both
People growing their own marijuana is a significant concern to Big Pharma. As state legalization of cannabis-derivatives spreads, the drug companies contemplating the potential of medical marijuana see a threat from both homegrown and professionally harvested medical-grade marijuana.
Pharma offers quality control and deep testing but experience shows that research and development adds to customer cost. Even the 21st Century Cures Act won’t speed up the famously slow pace of FDA drug approvals. Given the facts and the perception, you have to wonder if Big Pharma is for or against legalizing marijuana.
Here’s the problem.
A lot of money always attracts a lot interest. Big Pharma wants the revenues that marijuana promises but concede market forces threaten their interests. Big Pharma can’t getting its biggest slice of the pie with individuals and licensed producers harvesting cannabis, not to mention the the black market that continues to thrive.
Ben Cohen, writing for US News, insists it’s all about money. He writes, “For years, large corporations and well-heeled lobbyists have blocked the legalization of marijuana for medical use or recreational use in order to protect their own profits.”
There’s no reason to expect this to stop.
On the other hand, cannabis advocates have a personal and emotional investment in promoting the legalization, or at least decriminalization, of marijuana. Sometimes that makes them anti-institutional and they skew the role of Big Pharma. Finding an objective point of view is difficult.
You might consider the hypocrisy at the February 2014 meeting of the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA). While speaker after speaker preached against the legalization of marijuana, leading financial sponsors of the program included Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin.
As reported in The Nation, both CADCA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (formerly the Partnership for a Drug-Free America) accept financial support from the producers of the same opioid medications that have led to tens of thousands of deaths. The same two groups, among others, have opposed U.S. Congressional efforts to label prescription opioids for “severe pain,” but they have supported continuing Medicare reimbursement for the addictive pills.
Moreover, pharmaceutical companies take shelter in the DEA’s listing of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin. As long as the DEA effectively prohibits marijuana medical research, Big Pharma can take the moral high road. The Schedule 1 designation severely limits needed research into the medical efficacy of cannabis-derivatives.”Big pharma is lobbying against legalization, on the purported grounds of safety, but in reality, they are just buying time to create their own synthetic cannabis medicines,” said Alan Hirsch, CEO of Diagnostic Lab Corporation, a cannabis safety and science company. “Several biotech companies have started creating cannabinoid chemistry from rice or yeast, but eventually, these medicines will be manufactured by Big Pharma in Schedule 1 facilities.”
The problem that started with the Trump campaign.
Many of the same voters who elected President Donald J. Trump voted to liberalize marijuana enforcement. And, like everything else with the arrival of the Trump administration, things remain in a state of confusion pending official updated stance.
In a Town Hall (03/20/2016) meeting, then-candidate Trump said, “I think that as far as drug legalization we talk about marijuana and in terms of medical I think I am basically for that. I’ve heard some wonderful things in terms of medical. I’m watching Colorado very carefully to see what’s happening out there.”
On The O’Reilly Factor (02/12/2016), when Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly called medical marijuana a “ruse,” candidate Trump said, “But I know people that have serious problems and they did that they really — it really does help them.”
Later, candidate Trump told the Washington Post(10/29/2016), “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state … Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”
Decades ago he also told the Miami Herald (04/14/1990) “We’re losing badly the War on Drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
Confusion about the Trump Administration and cannabis.
President Donald J. Trump has sent several confusing signals to the pharmaceutical industry and the cannabis advocates. NewsMaxFinance (03/03/3017) quoted President-elect Trump as saying, “pharmaceutical companies are ‘getting away with murder’ in what they charge the government for medicines.” President Trump repeated that charge at a press conference reported by the Washington Post(01/11/2017) when he also said, “Pharma has a lot of lobbies, a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power.”
Fox Business (02/01/2017) interviewed Eli Lilly’s CEO David A. Ricks following Trump’s White House meeting with pharmaceutical industry leaders. “When asked if he gave the president any commitment to reducing drug prices or to investing in U.S. operations or jobs, Ricks responded, ‘No, Lilly didn’t do that. But, what we did say is that with the right policy environment, in particular, the corporate tax rate which today is an inhibitor for us to invest in manufacturing here in the United States, along with other pro-business policies could allow us to expand operations in the U.S’.”In the end, it’s all about striking a winning balance. Trump needs a victory over high drug prices, especially as they affect Medicare Part D. Big Pharma is in a position to demand concessions. Accessibility to cannabis R&D might just be one of them.