Pubdate: Mon, 06 Jan 2014
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2014 New Zealand Herald
Author: Ian Johnston


As Legalisation of Marijuana Spreads, Chinese Companies Have the 
Patents Ready to Exploit New Markets

Almost 5000 years ago, Chinese physicians recommended a tea made from 
cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions, including gout 
and malaria.

Today, as the global market for marijuana experiences an 
unprecedented boom after moves to legalise, it is China that again 
appears to have set its eyes on dominating trade in the drug.

The communist country is well placed to exploit the burgeoning 
cannabis trade with more than half of the patents relating to or 
involving cannabis originating in China.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), 
Chinese firms have filed 309 of the 606 patents relating to the drug.

About 147 million people - around 2.5 per cent of the world's 
population - use cannabis, according to the World Health 
Organisation. And medicinal properties of the drug are increasingly 
being recognised.

It can be used to treat conditions ranging from the nausea caused by 
chemotherapy for cancer patients and chronic pain to cerebral palsy, 
multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

Last month, Uruguay became the first country to legalise marijuana in 
its entirety - from growing the crop to processing and use. Now Peru 
looks likely to follow Uruguay's example and legalise cannabis production.

Last week, the US state of Colorado decriminalised the recreational 
use of cannabis. Stores may have turned over up to US$1 million ($1.2 
million) statewide during the first day alone, according to shop 
owners. The Department of Revenue for Colorado said sales could hit 
US$600 million by the end of this year.

People in Washington state have also voted to legalise marijuana, 
although stores are not expected to open until later in the year.

The reported that New York is planning to loosen its marijuana laws 
to allow limited use of the drug by people suffering serious illness. 
The newspaper said Governor Andrew Cuomo - a long-time opponent of 
legalising medical marijuana - was planning to announce the new 
guideline this week in an executive action.

New York would become the 21st state to allow medical use of 
marijuana. California has already loosened its rules on medical marijuana.

Shares in companies involved in cannabis soared after Colorado's 
move. One firm, MediSwipe Inc, had its stock jump by nearly 70 per 
cent last Thursday. The legal trade in cannabis in the US alone could 
be worth US$10 billion by 2018.

Analysts say China is once again at the forefront of exploiting new 
economic opportunities.

"Because cannabis in Western medicine is becoming accepted, the 
predominance of Chinese patents suggests that pharmaceutical sciences 
are evolving quickly in China, outpacing Western capabilities," Dr 
Luc Duchesne, an Ottawa businessman and biochemist, wrote in InvestorIntel.

"CTM [Chinese traditional medicine] is poised to take advantage of a 
growing trend. The writing is on the wall: westernised Chinese 
traditional medicine is coming to a dispensary near you."

Many of the Chinese patents are for herbal treatments. One, filed by 
the Yunan Industrial Cannabis Sativa Co, refers to an application 
made from whole cannabis sativa seeds to make "functional food" 
designed to improve the human immune system.

Another, by an inventor called Zhang Hongqi, is for a "Chinese 
medicinal preparation" for treating peptic ulcers. It uses an array 
of ingredients, including cannabis sativa seed. The filing says it 
has "significant therapeutic effectiveness and does not cause any 
adverse effect".

There is also a patent filing from China for a treatment for 
constipation, which is made using fructus cannabis and other 
ingredients such as "immature bitter orange", Chinese angelica and 
balloon flower. This, it is claimed, treats constipation's root 
causes and symptoms.

However, only one company in the world has developed cannabisbased 
drugs as medicines that have been recognised by regulators in the 
West following the long, costly process of clinical trials. GW 
Pharmaceuticals, based in Wiltshire, England, makes Sativex for the 
treatment of symptoms of multiple sclerosis and cancer pain, and 
Epidiolex for childhood epilepsy.

A spokesman for the company, which is the only one licensed to carry 
out research on cannabis in Britain, said China had a long history of 
working with herbal medicines.

"In that sense it doesn't come as a surprise," he said of the patent 
filings. " This is a country with thousands of years of working with 
plants in medicines."

In December, Jamaica announced it was forming its first medical 
marijuana company, called MediCanja. Henry Lowe, a scientist and 
executive chairman of MediCanja, said medical cannabis could help 
"transform Jamaica's fledgling economy".

"Given Jamaica's history with ganja, we could be the hub for medical 
ganja in Latin America and the Caribbean."

Peter Reynolds, leader of Cannabis Law Reform (Clear), a 
British-based campaign group, said China had another advantage over 
other countries in selling cannabis as it was one of the largest 
producers in the world of industrial hemp, a form of cannabis with a 
low amount of the psychoactive compound THC.

"The Chinese are smarter and they are on to all the good ideas," he 
said. "The potential for cannabis as a medicine is monumental."

But smoking cannabis remains illegal in China. In April last year, 
the South China Morning Post reported that it was a popular drug 
among the country's young people despite the threat of lengthy prison 

The opening up of a legal trade in non-medical marijuana is not 
without its critics. Uruguay's decision to remove all legal 
restrictions on use was condemned by the International Narcotics 
Control Board, the body charged with monitoring international 
treaties on narcotics.

"Cannabis is not only addictive but may also affect some fundamental 
brain functions, IQ potential and academic and job performance, and 
impair driving skills," it said. " Smoking cannabis is more 
carcinogenic than smoking tobacco."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom