There were three major news stories last week that provided more evidence to bolster the Medical Marijuana Box Canyon theory I’ve advocated since 2009. (Simply stated, the theory is that continuing to advocate solely for medical marijuana access for some, rather than full legalization for all, plays into the hands of governments that want to keep marijuana prohibited and pharmaceutical companies what want to see cannabinoids patented.)
First up, the Pennsylvania House passed that state’s medical marijuana bill, sending it back to the Senate for reconciliation. It now looks like it will take weeks to finally get to the governor, who says he will sign the bill.
Pennsylvania would be the 24th state to pass a medical marijuana law, and there would finally be a majority of Americans living in a medical marijuana state—51 percent of the population.
But getting to that majority has required weakening what a medical marijuana law means.
In the 13 states that passed medical marijuana programs from 1996-2008, medical marijuana meant patients could grow cannabis plants and smoke marijuana.
Starting with Arizona in 2010, medical marijuana in the next nine states meant patients could smoke marijuana, but only if they bought it from dispensaries.
Then in 2014 with New York and Minnesota, medical marijuana meant patients could only use non-smokable cannabinoid products bought from dispensaries.
That’s the kind of law Pennsylvania is considering—no home growing, no smoked marijuana—edibles, tinctures and oils only.
Also remember that 2014 was the year Utah began the trend of passing highly-flawed medical cannabidiol (sometimes called “CBD-only”) laws. These laws have proliferated to 15 states and allow only the use of cannabinoid oils lacking almost any THC. They don’t even provide access to the oil; parents of epileptic children who use the oils have to smuggle them across state lines.
Now consider the second big news story from last week, the massive stock price increase enjoyed by Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals, which shot up from $38.46 per share to $81.67.
The reason? GW’s cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex, performed remarkably well in the first of four phase III clinical trials for the treatment of epilepsy.
GW has been working to perfect cannabinoid pharmaceuticals for almost two decades. It’s first run of trials for cancer-fighting drugs panned out, and the company has struggled along with just $5 million in annual sales.
Epidiolex, it’s estimated, could be worth $1.1 billion annually in just five years, if these epilepsy trials continue to prove successful.
I’ll bet you’re putting two and two together about these first couple of stories by now. If all these recent medical marijuana states don’t let patients grow cannabis and base their laws on non-smokable cannabis products…
…and GW Pharmaceuticals manages to perfect their patented versions of non-smokable cannabis products…
Hold that thought while you consider the third big story, which was Secretary Hillary Clinton’s sweep of five Democratic primaries on Tuesday. Clinton’s victories provide her with the better shot at clinching the Democratic presidential nomination.
Her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, favors removing marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. That move would provide the greatest freedom to states to prohibit, decriminalize, medicalize or legalize marijuana as they see fit.
But Clinton favors rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II, keeping it in the Controlled Substances Act.
The reason all current medical marijuana laws work is because doctors are offering recommendations to use cannabis medically. They cannot offer prescriptions for medical marijuana, because a doctor cannot prescribe a Schedule I drug. Furthermore, medical use doesn’t make marijuana legal, it merely exempts the medical user from criminal prosecution.
But Schedule II drugs—like oxycodone, cocaine and methamphetamine—are prescribable. Some argue that Schedule II would open up more research on medical marijuana, but cannabis is subject to its own rules regarding production (only at the University of Mississippi) and distribution (only through the National Institute on Drug Abuse) that wouldn’t necessarily change with the rescheduling.
So, what happens in medical marijuana states when cannabis is something must be dispensed only with a prescription under federal law?
Furthermore, consider how today, no insurance policy will cover medical marijuana, because it is a federally illegal drug. But once it is Schedule II and prescribable, why wouldn’t insurance cover it?
With that confluence of insurance companies freed to cover cannabinoid products and pharmaceutical companies ready to reap those insurance payments for their cannabinoid products, how much pressure can you imagine will there will be to repeal medical marijuana laws in favor of the pharmaceutical model?
First, it will be the “CBD-only” states. Why have the parents driving out of state to get some CBD oil from Colorado when the local pharmacy can dispense some of GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex, and it’s covered by the parents’ health insurance?
Next, it will be the no home grow/no smokable marijuana states, as GW continues to refine its product line to cover spasticity, digestion, pain, nausea and any other condition found in a state’s medical marijuana law. Why have the state regulating and licensing a system of growing plants and processing them into medicines when GW is doing that already, and it fits perfectly in the existing pharmacy system?
Even the states with home grow medical marijuana might slowly succumb to the pressure. Already, Montana has severely curtailed its program, and there is a threat to eliminate it entirely. Nevada adopted Arizona’s odious “25-mile halo” rule preventing home grow within 25 miles of a dispensary.
Every year that passes, it seems clearer to me that the end path of medical marijuana leads to a GW product on a pharmacy shelf. The only fight that guarantees whole plant medical marijuana access for every deserving patient is the fight for legalization of personal use and cultivation of cannabis as a right, independent of one’s health condition.
(Photo Courtesy of The Ann Arbor News)