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Role of Big Pharma in Marijuana Legalization

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Role of Big Pharma in Marijuana Legalization
Since the mid 20th century, the discussion of whether medical or even recreational
marijuana should be legalized has been one of the most heated topics on the national level.
In the 70s and 80s we saw President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan proposing
the War on Drug and making marijuana as the center of their target. In the 90s we saw the
trend had started to turn a little when California passed the law to legalize medical
marijuana in 1996. Coming into the 21st century, President Obama brought up the possibility
that each state should decide for themselves whether they should legalize even recreational
marijuana. Up until today, 11 states have already passed the law to legalized recreational
marijuana. Most activists would agree that we are now in a direction to total legalization
and we will be the generation who would actually make that happen. As it turns out, lots of
big pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. seems to agree to that too. In the past few years,
we have seen more and more pharmaceutical companies coming out and endorse and
support marijuana legalization. Some of them even invested huge amount of funds
dedicating to the research of development of marijuana. But such gestures have really
started to alarm some of the activists since pharmaceutical companies have always been on
the opposite side of marijuana legalization. Furthermore, for a significant part of the
activists, they dedicated their work to legalization not because they want to get high, but for
the healthcare and social justice of themselves or the people they care about. And the
participation of profit driven pharmaceutical companies might jeopardize their goal.
Although these accusations have yet to be proven, I suggest that the pharmaceutical
companies can be very beneficial to the cause of legalization marijuana. Pharmaceutical
companies have the resources and money the conduct the researches that are needed to
prove marijuana to be medically beneficial and relatively harmless compare to other
substances. Eventually these researches will add up and convince the majority in the US to
legalize marijuana.
For marijuana legalization activists, there is no doubt that the ultimate goal is to fully
legalize marijuana on a national level. To achieve this goal, it is very important to persuade
the majority of the country to believe that marijuana is medically beneficial and has
acceptable side effect to our health. And to accomplish that, legalization activists or anyone
who is supporting the legalization of marijuana will have to provide concrete evidence to
support their opinions. This is one of the major obstacles in the legalization process because
marijuana is listed as one of the Schedule I drugs by the DEA according to the Controlled
Substances Act in 1970. And according to the DEA, Schedule I drugs are defined as “Drugs
with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” 1 Being in the
Schedule I classification also means that it is very hard to legally conduct researches in the
US. And for the activists this has always been the problem to push forward the legalization
because no matter how many patients we have seen receiving great help from marijuana,
they still cannot provide a significant and sound scientific research about marijuana to clear
its name. But I believe big pharmaceutical companies can be very helpful on this matter. Big
pharma has the money, resources and the motivation to conduct thorough marijuana
researches. Marijuana has become one of the most important focus in the pharmaceutical
industry because it is expected to perform greatly in the pain management domain and
bring other benefits in a series of therapies. The potential of marijuana has attracted
pharmaceutical companies to invest billions of dollars into its research. 2 An example of that
1
2
"Drug Scheduling." DEA. Accessed April 05, 2019. https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling.
"2019's Top Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry," MasterControl, February 6, 2019, , accessed April 05, 2019,
https://www.mastercontrol.com/gxp-lifeline/3-trends-shaping-the-pharma-industry-in-2019/.
would be Sandoz. Sandoz, a pharmaceutical giant which conducts business worldwide
announced on June 19th, 2018 that they had come to an agreement of collaboration with
Tilray, a medical cannabis producer in Canada. This collaboration includes experiments and
researches on medical treatment options and different manufacturing standards to adapt
different medical conditions. Their plan also includes advocating broader access of
marijuana products, increasing product innovation and education. 3 Although this is a
collaboration conduct in Canada, the results of these kinds of researches can be brought
back and used in the US as evidence and experience to support the marijuana legalization.
Pharmaceutical companies such as Sandoz not only have business conduct in the US but all
around the world in places where marijuana is legal. Under the Schedule I classification, it is
difficult for companies and organizations to acquire cannabis in the US to conduct research
with. But the global presence of these pharmaceutical companies provides chances of
conducting research elsewhere. According to a joint research between New Frontier Data in
the U.S. and Grow Biotech, a British cannabis bio-technology firm, 7 out of the 10 top
cannabis patent holders in Canada are pharmaceutical companies. 4 It shows that
pharmaceutical companies have incompatible resources in terms of research and
development in the field of medical marijuana. It is an advantage that can be used by
marijuana activists during the process of legalization in the US.
3 Sandoz Canada. "Sandoz Canada Becomes the First Canadian Pharmaceutical Company to Enter the Medical Cannabis
Field." GlobeNewswire News Room. June 19, 2018. Accessed April 05, 2019. https://www.globenewswire.com/newsrelease/2018/06/19/1526336/0/en/Sandoz-Canada-Becomes-the-First-Canadian-Pharmaceutical-Company-to-Enter-theMedical-Cannabis-Field.html.
4 Data, New Frontier. "Big Pharma Collects Most Canadian Cannabis Patents." GlobeNewswire News Room. August 15,
2018. Accessed April 05, 2019. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/08/15/1552656/0/en/Big-PharmaCollects-Most-Canadian-Cannabis-Patents.html.
While there is no doubt that useful results generated by researches conducted
elsewhere around the globe would benefit the marijuana legalization process, the battle will
have to be fought back home as well. As I mentioned above, one of the largest obstacles in
the marijuana legalization process is the Schedule I classification. The DEA took a firm stance
for decades and refuses to remove marijuana from Schedule I regardless of results from all
kinds of researches proving marijuana to be medically beneficial and less harmful than drugs
such as heroin and LSD which are also listed as Schedule I drugs. Although it has been a
prolong struggle for the activists to persuade the DEA the reschedule marijuana,
pharmaceutical company can also be of great help.
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