Uncle Sam's Marijuana Patch
Not many people are aware that the United States government has been dispensing cannabis to several patients across the country for over three decades. The hypocrisy of a government that seizes personal property, locks people in cages and ruins lives for doing exactly what the government has been doing for more than 30 years is simple astounding.
Thanks to a lawsuit settlement with the federal government by cannabis patient Robert Randall, a federal medical marijuana program was established as Mr. Randall was able to prove that cannabis was the only medicine that sufficiently helped with his debilitating medical condition. Elvy Musikka, whom I am honored to call a friend, was given an unfair "choice of evils" as she would have gone blind due to her glaucoma unless she utilized cannabis, but by using cannabis, she was committing both federal and state crimes. The Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program was thus created, leading to 30 patients receiving medical cannabis from Uncle Sam's marijuana patch at the University of Mississippi. Unfortunately, the program was discontinued in 1992, so only patients grandfathered in the program were allowed as the federal government quit accepting new patients.
USA Today helps shed light on the United States' medical cannabis program, focusing on the experience of Eugene, Oregon, resident Elvy Musikka as well as Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, director of the federal government's marijuana program. While I am glad that USA Today is helping educate the masses about this government program, I am left uneasy by the fact that Dr. ElSohly is head of the government's marijuana program, while at the same time, working with his own private lab and potential pharmaceutical partners to develop cannabis-based medicines.
As a public employee, supposedly dedicated to scientific research, I find his financial conflict of interest unacceptable. Dr. ElSohly has led our nation's marijuana program since 1981, giving him substantial influence in our nation's marijuana policy. It is unseemly for him to disparage marijuana while at the same time hoping to cash in on cannabis-based medicines that he hopes to be approved for sale by the FDA.
From the USA Today:
ElSohly is concerned about the unregulated market for marijuana. He said that without some type of regulation in place people are subjected to dangerously high levels of THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
"They get something off the street without knowing the potency of what they are smoking, and before they realize they've had too much, it's already too late."
Dr. ElSohy goes on to wrongly and unfairly accuse cannabis law reform activists of not supporting any regulations and fear monger about an increase in drug abuse due to marijuana legalization measures. However, the potential monetary conflict that may color the good doctor's feelings about marijuana law reform becomes very evident later in the USA Today piece.
"What we are working on right now is a transmucosal --- a small patch that will be put inside the mouth above the gum line. We have support from the National Institute of Health and also from my private lab," he said. "We've concluded the first couple phases, and we are working on releasing it soon with a pharmaceutical partner."
While I guess that it shouldn't be surprising that a government employee has a financial stake in the area of which he works, this obvious conflict makes Dr. ElSohy unfit for his position, in my opinion. Unfortunately, Mahmoud ElSohy isn't the first government bureaucrat that has been looking to cash in on marijuana prohibition. Dr. Andrea Barthwell made her career disparaging medical cannabis and any and all cannabis law reform efforts as the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush. Now, working in the private sector, Dr. Barthwell has no problem touting the potential benefits of cannabis-based medicines as a consultant for GW Pharmaceuticals as the British drug company has sought approval of Sativex, basically a cannabis tincture, in lucrative prescription drug markets across the globe.
Mahmoud ElSohy's financial incentive to perpetuate the Drug War reminds me of another high-profile conflict of interest in our nation's recent history. Dick Cheney retired from the multinational corporation Halliburton, receiving a $36 million severance package during the 2000 general election and he divested himself of all of his shares of Halliburton stocks just before he became Vice President. Cheney hoped to help quash controversies surrounding his conflict of interest regarding Halliburton as the company makes a mighty fine profit off of contracts with the federal government. In fact, Halliburton was awarded a controversial$7 billion no-bid contract in the run-up to the Iraq War as no other company was allowed to even compete. Vice President Cheney, of course, was a driving force behind our nation's war with Iraq and even though he took some steps to insulate himself from his financial conflict of interest, his relationship with Halliburton tainted Cheney's tenure as Vice President. Dr. ElSohy has a similar conflict as he is looking to financially benefit from a war being waged upon our own citizens who choose to utilize a nontoxic plant. Dr. ElSohy should learn from Dick Cheney and divest himself of any and all financial conflicts regarding marijuana policy or Uncle Sam should find a new overseer of his marijuana plantation.
Republished with the special permission of the National Cannabis Coalition