Big Pharma, the DEA and You

Medical Marijuana

By Jasen T. Davis

Why there’s a plot to OK the sale of pharmaceutical cannabis–but keep the homegrown stuff illegal

Right now, under federal law, cannabis is illegal. That also means the organic form of the chemical compound THC is also illegal.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to know that Big Pharma, such as Watson Pharmaceuticals and Par Pharmaceuticals, has designed its own version of THC (sold in products like Marinol), but this form of medicine is usually less effective and vastly more expensive. Not surprisingly, MMJ patients tend to medicate using the plant in its natural form because it’s more effective, safer and more affordable.

Watson is never going to get raided by the DEA–this federal anti-narcotics agency instead seems to want to spend part of its time and money stamping out collectives and patients who grow their own medicine. And on the other hand, Big Pharma’s lobbyists have been hard at work not only to keep the law the way it is, but also protect its clients’ interests.

The federal government claims that THC is a schedule I drug, which means DEA agents view marijuana as medically useless and on the same footing as cocaine and heroin. This is why raids made against collectives, small businesses and growers continue across the country.

However, there has been a new push by big drug companies to get the Federal Drug Administration to reclassify manufactured THC as a schedule III drug. This would mean that Watson Pharmaceuticals and Par Pharmaceuticals could be able to sell a synthesized form of THC–while keeping the homegrown stuff illegal as a heroin popsicle. This concept of regarding artificial THC as medically kosher, yet classifying THC in its natural form as illegal and useless doesn’t jive with many. In fact, to advocates and activists, it makes no sense.

Kris Hermes, an Oakland-based media specialist for Americans for Safe Access, spoke with CULTURE to sort out this Gordian knot of corporate power, government hypocrisy and weird logic.

I can understand Big Pharma’s motivations, but in what other way is the federal government complicit in working against the best interests of medical marijuana patients?

The federal government is obstructing research in the United States by employing a byzantine approval process for researching cannabis, which has put us in an inferior place compared to countries around the world (Editor’s note: Israel is a good example).

So, America is falling behind. If our tax dollars go to government research, doesn’t that mean that the research would reveal the health benefits of cannabis as well?

If our government was interested in the therapeutic qualities of marijuana, then they would research how it works in the human body and how its constituents work in the body to produce its healthy effects. Instead, they prioritize or favor research that investigates the negative effects of cannabis. This has been going on for a while.

Aside from an indication that a serious policy change is necessary, what’s really going on here?

A comprehensive policy change must include research [ . . .] but what’s also going on is a race against time to advance the pharmaceutical side of this issue before sufficient traction can be made by the members of the marijuana community, many of whom prefer not to take their medicine in pill form.


Just in case you thought Big Pharma is anti-marijuana, think again. It’s just that they want to push their manufactured, clinical version of the stuff you and I can pick up at our friendly neighborhood dispensary.
Examples include:


Made by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, this contains a synthetic version of THC and is used for the treatment of nausea for chemo patients. It went on sale in 2006.


Synthetic THC in capsule form, it’s been sold since 1986. It’s currently manufactured by a Belgian company, Solvay Pharmaceuticals.


A whole-cannabis extract spray (made by British firm GW Pharmaceuticals) that is absorbed through the mouth and contains both THC and CBD. It is currently undergoing medical trials for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and cancer.

Article from Culture Magazine and republished with special permission