Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Marijuana Monopoly

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Legal use of the marijuana plant for medicinal purposes dates back to the colonial era of our country. The plant was actively prescribed to patients until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 ended its legal status in the United States. However, since 1996 state legislatures have challenged this prohibition by passing laws that allow the drug to be prescribed to patients dealing with a diverse array of ailments. There are now 23 states (including our own) that allow the cannabis-based treatment of disease, but surprisingly the development of such treatments has moved at a stoned pace.
            A recent article in Nature explores why the United States has fallen behind countries like the U.K and Canada in marijuana research. The problem is that the way that the distribution and sale of legal marijuana is organized makes it easier for a recreational user than a researcher to score high grade marijuana. This is because all marijuana that is used for research and medicinal purposes is supplied by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). If you’re thinking that its weird that the federal government would grant a medical marijuana monopoly to the same institution that, for decades, distributed pseudoscience pamphlets warning against dopamine-based marijuana addiction, that’s because it is. Predictably, the NIDA is often reluctant to grant approval to researchers and produces marijuana that has THC contents of just 12% (over 90% of the marijuana seized by the DEA has a THC content >20%), and concurrently low levels of therapeutic molecules like cannabidiol

            Marijuana research hopefuls must get approval from the NIDA, DEA, and the FDA before they can get their hands on some green. Thankfully, a bipartisan bill called the CARERS act is looking to break the NIDA’s chokehold on medical marijuana production. The bill would reschedule the drug from its current status of class I (among such drugs as heroin and methamphetamine) to a class II (similar to Adderall or oxycodone) and also allow states greater control over their own medical marijuana policies. This would mean giving states the freedom to research marijuana’s possible therapeutic basis using a grower and distributor of their choice. It will also help expedite the time scientists must spend waiting for approval to conduct clinical trials.

Posted by John Slepchuk (Group C)

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