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Jun-03-2011 16:20printcomments

Meet Your New Pot Dealer: Big Pharma

Generic cannabis pills planned for wide use.

Cannabis prohibition
Herbal medical marijuana is a conflict with drug manufacturers.
Photo by Hendrix.

(OAKLAND, Ca.) - Despite the US government's staunch opposition to medical cannabis farms in Oakland and elsewhere, the feds have begun licensing a whole lot of large legal pot grows throughout the country. But this weed is not for cannabis dispensaries and their patients; it's for Big Pharma.

The Drug Enforcement Administration told Legalization Nation in an e-mail last week that 55 unnamed companies now hold licenses to grow cannabis in the United States, a fact that contradicts the widespread belief that there is only one legal pot farm in America, operated under the DEA for research purposes.

It appears as if the upswing in federally approved pot farming is about feeding the need of pharmaceutical companies who want to produce a generic version of THC pill Marinol and at least one other cannabis-based pill for a wide variety of new uses.

In other words, if big corporations grow dope with the government and put it in a pill, it's medicine. But if you grow it at home or at a city-permitted pot farm and then put it in a vaporizer, it's a felony.

"They've got to realize, as a political issue, this is going to raise a red flag," said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for medical marijuana lobby Americans for Safe Access.

"Here we have companies cultivating marijuana on a mass scale to produce generic Marinol. It's going to force the government to answer more questions than it wants to."

It's a weird piece of news that comes at a strange and contradictory time for the drug war. As US attorneys send threatening letters to states and cities, including Oakland, warning them against "commercial cultivation" of marijuana, the DEA is quietly handing out licenses for commercial cultivation.

The schism has its roots in the Seventies and the drug war under Richard Nixon. Nixon ignored his staff's recommendations and named weed the most dangerous drug in America under the Controlled Substances Act. Cannabis has remained a so-called "Schedule 1" controlled substance alongside heroin and roofies (GHB) because it has allegedly no medical use and high potential for abuse.

But the only people who still believe that are old church ladies. Hermes said in an interview that decades of scientific studies and FDA approvals have proved the drug's 3,000-year-old medical efficacy and safety. Today, sixteen states defy the Controlled Substances Act and allow qualified patients to access the drug.

While federal legalization efforts have repeatedly failed, drug law reformers have also targeted the scheduling of cannabis.

Filed in 1972, the first rescheduling petition was denied by the DEA 22 years later, over the objections of their own administrative law judge Francis Young, who said in court records: "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."

In 2002, activists again tried to reschedule the cannabis plant. Today, they still await word on their petition, which is why they filed a writ of mandamus Monday in a Washington, DC circuit court that would order the DEA to rule on the matter.

"The federal government's strategy has been delay, delay, delay," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access in an e-mailed statement Monday.

"The Obama administration's refusal to act on this petition is an irresponsible stalling tactic," added Steph Sherer, executive director of the organization, in the statement.

But while the government has stalled on rescheduling a cheap, patent-less pain remedy with fewer toxic side effects than Advil or Tylenol, regulators are proving to be more than happy to accommodate Big Pharma's efforts to muscle in on pot.

Cannabis' main psychoactive ingredient, THC, was isolated in the Seventies, and copied in a lab to produce the prescription synthetic Marinol. In 1999, the DEA then downgraded Marinol to a Schedule III drug like codeine, while the plant itself stayed a Schedule I.

However, Marinol never did that well with cancer patients, doctors say. Effects vary widely. With at least 66 different canabinoids in smoked pot, patients report THC-only Marinol doesn't provide the same relief.

But Marinol is about to get a big boost. Its patent has recently expired, and a review of clinical human trials show sixteen studies under way that, if successful, would broaden generic Marinol's uses considerably beyond treating nausea in cancer patients.

In addition, researchers are using THC, as well as the number-two cannabinoid, CBD, in studies to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, fibromyalgia, PTSD, and even irritable bowel syndrome. That's because pot modulates a newly discovered yet primal-cell signaling pathway called "the endocannabinoid system," with special effects in the brain and the gut.

Drug companies want to bring generic THC and CBD to new markets, and have requested that the DEA allow them to grow pot and put organic THC and CBD in pills, according to DEA records posted online last fall. But that requires the DEA to move organic THC down from Schedule I, where it is now, to Schedule III, where synthetic THC Marinol currently is.

According to DEA records, drug companies have requested just such a rescheduling. It appears as if they're likely to get it at any time, green-lighting a new generation of prescription pot pill farms.

The federal government has already boosted its marijuana production capability by 900 percent to 4.5 million grams, according documents obtained by Americans for Safe Access. The most famous federally approved pot grower, Dr. Mahmoud El Sohly, has also testified he has begun legally selling THC extracted from his Mississippi pot farm to the drug company Mallinckrodt.

Big Pharma's move on the pot industry isn't some forty-year-old hippie conspiracy theory, said Paul Armentano, spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. It's here.

Previously Published in East Bay Express

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Garry WHITE July 10, 2011 10:49 am (Pacific time)

.., this marihuana research will soon be starting in Canada for the devlopment of new medicines. Our firm in part of this process.

AM June 12, 2011 2:59 am (Pacific time)

"roofies" usually refers to Rohypnol, which is unrelated to GHB. They are different drugs. If you're going to use street names, at least get them right.

Adoregon June 9, 2011 11:20 am (Pacific time)

Here's an open challenge to all law enforcement officers, district attorneys, Eric Holder, the DEA and all elected officials: If any of you think cannabis is more dangerous than the legal and ubiquitous substance alcohol, let us meet at a mutually agreeable time and public place. Let this meeting be televised. Every five minutes you will consume a "shot" (1 ounce)of distilled alcohol (minimum 45 Proof) and I will consume a lungful of organic sinsemilla cannabis (minimum 15% THC)vapor or smoke. We will continue in this way for six hours. I think the controversy about cannabis prohibition will be over in less than six hours. To hell with big pharma. To hell with the gummint.

Alan8 June 9, 2011 6:51 am (Pacific time)

The corrupt corporate/government partnership is planning on keeping home-grown plants illegal so the corporations can profit from their adulterated perscription ersion. This union of corporate and government power is called "fascism", and it continues no matter which of the two corporate-funded parties is in office. The Green Party doesn't accept corporate money and has been calling for marijuana legalization from the beginning (and a lot of other good things like single-payer health care). Your Green-Party votes show opposition to the corporate fascism overtaking our country. A mere 5% of the vote will get the Green Party matching Federal funds. VOTE GREEN!

jeff419 June 8, 2011 8:12 pm (Pacific time)

As someone who was recently convicted ofa marijuana offense for running a patients collective this just infuriates me to no end. Maybe they'll give me a job when I get out......

Anonymous June 8, 2011 4:30 pm (Pacific time)

Big Pharma has more money, and is able to buy more congresscritters and senators than your friendly neighborhood pot grower. You see, Big Pharma buys them wholesale. Big Pharma wins every time.

OH June 8, 2011 3:42 pm (Pacific time)

Americans cant grow industrial hemp, the excuse being that growers might conceal a few potent marijuana plants in the middle of a field of non-intoxicating hemp.

Coinspinner June 8, 2011 10:37 am (Pacific time)

Dear Pharma: The train left the station over 15 years ago. Please go away.

Coinspinner June 8, 2011 10:36 am (Pacific time)

"55 unnamed companies now hold licenses to grow cannabis in the United States"

Anonymous June 5, 2011 1:36 pm (Pacific time)

I can't believe that Pharma is being allowed to get involved in cannabis at all, after everything they've done to destroy it. They are evil. Stop them.

Joe Pietri June 5, 2011 10:42 am (Pacific time)

Herer didn't use cannabis untils 70's he voted for Nixon twice, get your facts straight.

EDITOR: Its appears Bruce Cain was referring to himself when he made the comment "...since the late 1960's", not Jack Herer. Just FYI.

Bruce Cain June 3, 2011 8:17 pm (Pacific time)

I was a good friend of Jack Herer's and have been involved in Cannabis activism since the late 1960's.  The answer is to Deschedule not Reschedule.  The answer is to allow all adults to grow untaxed.

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