Some Marijuana Advocates Say The DEA’s Refusal To Reschedule Pot Is A Good Thing

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Would rescheduling put medical cannabis in the pocket of Big Pharma?

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday, August 11, that after months of consideration, the agency had decided not to ease restrictions on marijuana.

The decision not to reduce marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I drug (defined by the DEA as drugs with no accepted medical use and with high potential for abuse) to a less restrictive Schedule II classification was met with overwhelming opposition on Twitter.

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta also had some choice criticism for the agency’s decision.

However, some medical cannabis advocates and industry members say the DEA’s refusal to reschedule cannabis might actually be a blessing in disguise.

Seibo Shen, founder and CEO of vaporizer producer VapeXhale, says rescheduling cannabis could turn the medical cannabis industry over to big pharmaceutical interests and push longtime medical cannabis businesses out of the industry.

“I think the big fear is, rescheduling marijuana could potentially shift the balance of power from people who are currently in the medical cannabis industry to big pharma companies who our government is already working with on a political level,” Shen told Extract in an interview.

If big pharmaceutical interests gain control of the medical cannabis industry, Shen worries it could turn into a situation where shareholder interests and corporate bottom lines begin dictating how medical cannabis is distributed, what forms it can be used in and how much it will cost patients.

“It seems like a lot of the time, pharmaceutical companies that are supposed to be in the business of healing people, aren’t very interested in actually healing people,” Shen said, referencing the recent example of American pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli.

Per the New York Times:

Mr. Shkreli, 32, gained attention in September after the huge overnight increase in the price of Daraprim, a six-decade-old drug that is the standard of care for toxoplasmosis, a serious parasitic infection.

Shen’s fears are not unfounded. Pharmaceutical companies have begun showing serious interest in cannabis-based medications in recent months.

Scott Greiper, president of New York-based Viridian Capital Advisors, told The Orange County Register that more than half of all investments in the marijuana industry right now are going to biotech companies looking for the “next billion-dollar drug” based on cannabis.

Greiper predicts the market for cannabis-based pharmaceuticals could reach $20 billion by 2020.

The problem with pharmaceutical cannabinoids, versus whole plant medical cannabis, is that individual cannabis compounds don’t appear to be as medically effective as traditional marijuana flowers.

This phenomenon, known as the “entourage effect,” suggests the hundreds of chemical compounds found within marijuana all work together to exert powerful therapeutic effects that no single cannabinoid can exert on its own, as reported by CNN.

More from CNN:

Take the case of Marinol, which is pure, synthetic THC. When the drug became available in the mid-1980s, scientists thought it would have the same effect as the whole cannabis plant. But it soon became clear that most patients preferred using the whole plant to taking Marinol.

Despite pharmaceutical plays for medical marijuana market share, some industry observers such as John Hudak, deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management, say rescheduling the drug probably wouldn’t herald a new era of Big Pharma-controlled medical marijuana.

“I think if Big Pharma really wanted marijuana to be a huge part of its product line, you would have seen it push the government long ago to consider rescheduling,” Hudak told International Business Times. “The state systems are so large, economically and in terms of the people who are served, and they have become entrenched. And frankly, it would be a tremendous enforcement action by the U.S. government to shut them all down, and it would likely be beyond the enforcement resources of the U.S. government right now.”

Geoff Doran, vice president of business development and co-founder at Tradiv, an online distribution platform that connects cultivators with dispensaries, doesn’t see Schedule II as a worrisome proposition either.

He’s actually disappointed the DEA didn’t decide to reschedule marijuana this year. But he’s also hopeful about the future of medical cannabis now that the agency has agreed to expand the availability of research-grade marijuana for scientific purposes.

“Although the decision didn’t come down the way I would like to see, it’s still a baby step in a direction for our movement,” Doran told Extract in an email. “At the same time, it’s business as usual for Tradiv — we’re going to put our heads down and keep pushing forward.”

As for Shen, he’d like to see the federal government just go ahead and “deschedule” cannabis altogether.

“We already function in a society where it is just as easy to get this [marijuana] legally or illegally. And for me, I’ve always felt that descheduling it gets rid of the criminal element and helps our ability to promote something that’s holistically positive for our users,” he said.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Some Marijuana Advocates Say The DEA’s Refusal To Reschedule Pot Is Probably A Good Thing
Author: Emily Gray Brosious
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Photo Credit: Uriel Sinai
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