Pubdate: Thu, 24 Dec 2015
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Column: Weed Between the Lines
Copyright: 2015 Boulder Weekly
Author: Sarah Haas


As the apothecary movement of dispensaries proves the market and 
merit of medical marijuana, the industry and its consumers find 
themselves in a grey area. The federal government promises to keep 
their nose out of state affairs, especially when it comes to the 
medical side of cannabis, but before landmark federal endorsement can 
come, the drug will be subject to the regulatory structures of the 
United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including medical 
trials and pharmaceutical regulation.

There are small permissions for medical marijuana at the federal 
level, like last week when Congress passed language to stop the Obama 
Administration's Department of Justice from spending money to block 
the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The language is a 
benchmark in the legalization of medical marijuana, signaling a major 
shift in drug policy as the reigns on prohibition loosen.

But while the language appeases some of the stress between the states 
and Washington D.C. over medical marijuana, it is not a definitive 
end of prohibition. Rather it is a passe indication that the federal 
budget ought not concern itself with the matter. The new amendment, 
slipped into a nearly 2,000- page, must-pass spending bill, almost 
comes as an afterthought.

Before there can be more enthusiastic endorsements of medical 
marijuana, the drug must overcome its lack of peer reviewed research 
- - a deficiency that is driving a chasm between medical marijuana 
products sold in state licensed dispensaries and the medicine derived 
from the cannabis plant by pharmaceutical companies. Small markets 
may not need FDA approval now, but the larger pharmaceutical 
industries are after bigger markets that depend on such backing.

In recent years, public and private research organizations performed 
studies that are filling that gap and paving the way for marijuana to 
emerge as a legitimate subject of political debate.

A 2014 National Institute of Health Study found an association 
between cannabis and reductions in post-traumatic stress disorder 
symptoms in some patients. Although it lacked a placebo controlled 
confirmation, the study spurred medical marijuana activists to seek 
the Veterans Administration (VA) to allow veterans to use medical 
marijuana as prescribed by VA doctors, which it did in November with 
the passing of the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs 
Appropriations Bill.

In June and July 2015, The Journal of American Medicine Association 
published a slew of reports on medical cannabis studies. The most 
prominent found high-quality evidence to support the use of marijuana 
for chronic pain and spasticity and moderate-quality evidence showing 
that cannabinoids were associated with improvements in nausea and 
vomiting under certain umbrella diagnoses.

The forward movement in research is not without complication - 
marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I Substance by the Drug 
Enforcement Administration (DEA), which does not acknowledge lawful 
cannabis producers. But the DEA has and continues to make room for 
pharmaceutical companies to begin research of medical marijuana by 
way of flexible scheduling - allowing these companies to administer 
trials on the basis that they would be classified as Schedule II or 
III drugs in market. The DEA released a notice earlier this month 
indicating that the federal government issued Catalent Pharma 
Solutions, a New Jersey drug development company, permission to begin 
importing various forms of cannabis into the United States to be 
administered to patients in clinical trials. Major drug manufacturers 
are paying Catalent to help engineer commercial medical marijuana 
products in a manner that will garner expeditious approval from the 
U.S. government.

According to the Marijuana Business Daily, the medical marijuana 
industry could reach $10 billion by 2018, even without a federal 
endorsement. In anticipation of that growing market, pharmaceutical 
companies are slipping around the law with a flexibility never 
granted to state level dispensaries.

So while it is exciting to see the progress in national policy and 
public opinion in regard to medical marijuana, it is also becoming 
clear that the real progress is being driven behind the scenes by 
large pharmaceutical companies as they prepare to take over the mom 
and pop apothecary network that paved the way.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom