Is Big Pharma Out to Stop—Or Take Over—Marijuana Legalization?
Joel Warner has an interesting article in Motherboard:
Geoffrey Guy stood out when he began attending conferences of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington, DC, in the mid to late 1990s. The stout British gentleman, dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, was hard to miss among the other attendees dressed in tie-dye shirts and psychedelic parkas, recalled Allen St. Pierre, then NORML’s deputy national director.
But while he might not have fit in, Guy, a doctor in his early 40s who’d already made millions by founding a UK-based pharmaceutical company, was eager to learn all he could at the events about medical marijuana.
“He was like a dry sponge who desperately wanted to be thrown in a bucket of water,” said St. Pierre, who recently resigned from his 11-year stint as NORML’s executive director to pursue private-sector opportunities.
What Guy absorbed at those conferences and other fact-finding excursions became the basis for GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK drug company he founded with fellow doctor Brian Whittle in 1998 that has now become a major player in the legal marijuana industry by developing Sativex, a groundbreaking marijuana-derived drug sold in more than a dozen countries worldwide, and Epidiolex, a cannabis-based seizure medication that’s on a fast track to become the first cannabis-based drug approved in the United States.
While much has been written on GW’s groundbreaking origins, part of the story is missing, according to St. Pierre: The close ties the nascent drug company forged with some of the biggest and most colorful names in the US marijuana movement.
Early GW investors included the late Peter Lewis, the billionaire former chairman of Progressive Insurance who donated millions to the Marijuana Policy Project and other cannabis reform efforts, and Don Wirtshafter, a longtime marijuana activist who wasremoved from NORML’s board of directors in 2000 after allegations surfaced of shady dealings between NORML and High Times magazine.
At the same time, said St. Pierre, GW employed the services of reform-minded scholars, writers and lawyers, including celebrated marijuana seed collector David Watson, pioneering cannabis scientist Ethan Russo and marijuana research and policy guru Paul Armentano, who had left his position at NORML in 1999 and later that year did short-term freelance contract work for GW, drafting content for various sections of their website. (Armentano, now NORML’s deputy director, confirmed these details but declined to comment further on the matter.)
GW also boasted an unusual champion: Irvin Rosenfeld, a stockbroker who is one of only two surviving patients to receive medical marijuana from the federal government thanks to the little-known Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. “I started supporting them and buying their stock,” said Rosenfeld of GW. “I wasn’t calling my regular clients on this. I was going to NORML conferences and other conferences and saying, ‘This company, I think it has potential.’”
Thanks largely to Rosenfeld’s efforts, by 2001 St. Pierre said 12 of NORML’s 19 board members had invested in GW, including several who’d sunk more money into the British company than they’d ever donated to the marijuana organization. The situation triggered some of the first discussions the board ever had on whether members should be allowed to invest in cannabis-related companies.
“There is no way you have GW Pharmaceuticals without a bizarre and interesting cast of characters from the marijuana movement,” said St. Pierre, who never invested in GW. “When [GW] started, they promoted this really grand notion that you could make money and prove marijuana was a safe and viable drug. You would be doing well and doing good, in terms of the legalization of marijuana.”
But more than a decade later, as GW has become a stock market darling and medical marijuana has become a nationwide industry, did the hopes of these marijuana advocates turned pharmaceutical investors come to pass? Are pharmaceutical interests, sensing financial potential, pushing for cannabis reforms? Or is Big Pharma, wary of new competition, working to stop marijuana legalization in its tracks?
There’s reason for pharmaceutical interest to be supportive of marijuana reforms. After all, excitement has been growing about the prospect of cannabis-based drugs.
According to the cannabis advisory firm Viridian Capital Advisors, . . .
Read the whole thing. Medical marijuana’s impact on profits for companies that sell pain relievers seems to be substantial, now that we have figures for 17 states. And medical marijuana is simply regular marijuana taken for medical reasons, so it seems not unlikely that pharmaceutical companies might want to get the benefits of selling marijuana-based medicines while keeping marijuana itself illegal.
Later in the article:
Some people believe it’s not just longstanding pharmaceutical interests that oppose legal marijuana; they say manufacturers of cannabis-based drugs like GW are also trying to restrict whole plant marijuana reforms. That includes Jody Mitchell, who helped pass a law legalizing low-THC medical cannabis oil in Alabama this year. According to Mitchell, at a hearing for the bill, Shannon Murphy, executive director of the Alabama chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national anti-legalization group, told lawmakers she worked for GW. While Murphy apparently later amended her statement to note that she wasn’t paid by the drug company, to Mitchell, the message was clear: “GW wants to corner the market.”