Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"America Is Giving Away the $30 Billion Medical Marijuana Industry"

800x-1The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new Bloomberg Businessweek article.  I am tempted to politicize this post by saying that a true "America First" President ought to be quite concerned about the sub-headline of this piece: "Why? Because the feds are bogarting the weed, while Israel and Canada are grabbing market share."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Lyle Craker is an unlikely advocate for any political cause, let alone one as touchy as marijuana law, and that’s precisely why Rick Doblin sought him out almost two decades ago. Craker, Doblin likes to say, is the perfect flag bearer for the cause of medical marijuana production—not remotely controversial and thus the ideal partner in a long and frustrating effort to loosen the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chokehold on cannabis research. There are no counterculture skeletons in Craker’s closet; only dirty boots and botany books. He’s never smoked pot in his life, nor has he tasted liquor. “I have Coca-Cola every once in a while,” says the quiet, white-haired Craker, from a rolling chair in his basement office at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he’s served as a professor in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture since 1967, specializing in medicinal and aromatic plants. He and his students do things such as subject basil plants to high temperatures to study the effects of climate change on what plant people call the constituents, or active elements....

In June 2001, Craker filed an application for a license to cultivate “research-grade” marijuana at UMass, with the goal of staging FDA-approved studies. Six months later he was told his application had been lost. He reapplied in 2002 and then, after an additional two years of no action, sued the DEA, backed by MAPS. By this point, both U.S. senators from Massachusetts had publicly supported his application, and a federal court of appeals ordered the DEA to respond, which it finally did, denying the application in 2004.

Craker appealed that decision with backing from a powerful bench of allies, including 40 members of Congress, and finally, in February 2007, a DEA administrative law judge ruled that his application for a license should be granted. The decision was not binding, however; it was merely a recommendation to the DEA leadership. Almost two years later, in the last week of the Bush administration, the application was rejected. Craker threw up his hands. He firmly believed marijuana should be more widely grown and studied, but he’d lost any hope that it would happen in his lifetime. And he had basil to attend to.

Then, in August 2016, during the final months of the Obama presidency, the DEA reversed course. It announced that, for the first time in a half-century, it would grant new licenses. Doblin, who has seemingly endless supplies of optimism and enthusiasm, convinced the professor there was hope—again. So Craker submitted paperwork, again, along with 25 other groups. The university’s provost co-signed his application, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) wrote a letter to the DEA in support of his effort. He’s still waiting to hear back. “I’m never gonna get the license,” Craker says.

Pessimism isn’t surprising from a man who’s been making a reasonable case for 17 years to no avail. Studies around the world have shown that marijuana has considerable promise as a medicine. Craker says he spoke late last year at a hospital in New Hampshire where certain cannabinoids were shown to facilitate healing in brain-damaged mice. “And I thought, ‘If cannabinoids could do that, let’s put them in medicines!’ ” He sighs. “We can’t do the research.”

Another sigh. “I’m naive about a lot about things,” he says. “But it seems to me that we should be looking at cannabis. I mean, if it’s going to kill people, let’s know that and get rid of it. If it’s going to help people, let’s know that and expand on it. … But there’s just something wrong with the DEA. I don’t know what else to say. … Somehow, marijuana’s got a bad name. And it’s tough to let go of.”....

Many people expect the Republican-controlled Congress to follow its recent tax overhaul by looking for ways to slash costs in Medicaid and Medicare. Legitimate research into the medicinal properties of marijuana could help. Studies show that opioid use drops significantly in states where marijuana has been legalized; this suggests people are consuming the plant for pain, something they could be doing more effectively if physicians and the FDA controlled chemical makeup and potency. A study published in July 2016 in Health Affairs showed that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative “fell significantly,” saving hundreds of millions of dollars among users of Medicare Part D....

Among those who’ve advised Craker is Tony Coulson, a former DEA agent who retired in 2010 and works as a consultant for companies developing drugs. Coulson was vehemently antimarijuana until his son, a combat soldier, came home from the Middle East with post-traumatic stress disorder and needed help. “For years I was of the belief that the science doesn’t say that this is medicine,” he says. “But when you get into this curious history, you find the science doesn’t show it primarily because we’re standing in the way. The NIDA monopoly prevents anyone from getting into further studies.”

Coulson blames the Obama administration for not acting sooner, creating a situation in which the decision on granting new growing licenses was passed down to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has publicly declared his belief in the dangers of marijuana. The NIDA monopoly is now his to change. “Sessions has a 1930s Reefer Madness view of the marijuana world,” Coulson says. “It’s not realistic, and it’s not what rank-and-file DEA really are concerned about. DEA folks have moved beyond this.”

“I guess I take a nationalist approach here,” says Rick Kimball, a former investment banker who’s raising money for a marijuana-related private equity fund and is a trustee for marijuana policy at the Brookings Institution. “We have a huge opportunity in the U.S.,” he says, “and we ought to get our act together. I’m worried that we’re ceding this whole market to the Israelis.”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/03/america-is-giving-away-the-30-billion-medical-marijuana-industry.html

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