The future of medical marijuana is bright. Cannabis is a miracle plant when it comes to medical uses. It is known to treat many illnesses and diseases, including epilepsy, chronic pain, anxiety and depression, and even cancer. For decades now, pharmaceutical companies have funded anti-drug campaigns and lobbied to restrict access to cannabis for obvious reasons: because if people can use marijuana to treat their illnesses, they won’t pay the big bucks for pills.
Therefore any time a pharmaceutical company says anything in favor of marijuana, we should take note and ask ourselves why. Chances are, it’s because they have found a way to take marijuana out of our hands and slap a huge price tag on it.
The Patent Problem
You can’t patent plants, but you can patent all the individual active compounds in them, isolate them, and put them into pills. That’s what GW Pharma is working on doing. It’s such a neat and simple plan – patent everything that actually works in the plant and then limit access to the plant itself.
There’s another way that patents can make money for pharmaceutical companies, and that is through intellectual property patents. That is, you may not be able to get a patent on an actual plant, but you may be able to get an intellectual property patent on using that plant for a specific ailment. The result would be that people are not prevented from growing or owning cannabis plants (unless they are under other laws), but that doctors cannot prescribe cannabis for that specific ailment without using the product that is patented by the company, and therefore paying that company’s prices.
The Variety Problem
There is some debate in US politics over whether plants can be patented or not, but the various cases that Monsanto has fought over the years have fairly well established that a particular variety of plant which is created by a company can be patented. This is highly pertinent to medical marijuana users, as a patent which was passed in California in 2015 specifically gives a group of breeders the exclusive rights to a particular strain of marijuana that has a specific amount of THC.
This opens a whole pandora’s box of potential patent law problems for individual growers, especially as soon as Monsanto jumps on the marijuana trend and starts applying for patents for all the varieties it can get its hands on. Worse, it shackles innovation as it makes it practically impossible to breed for new and better varieties of marijuana that meet different needs, since the originating stock of anything you could grow for yourself would be patent protected and therefore you wouldn’t actually own the new variety you made.
The Lab Problem
Cannabis, the plant, has many compounds that work in conjunction with each other to produce the amazing health benefits that users report. Pharmaceutical companies make a living isolating compounds and learning to lab produce them. What happens when Pharma companies start lab producing the individual isolates which have been identified as being effective against different problems, and then start lobbying for all other currently legal methods of isolating these compounds (such as the methods of producing CBD in the US, which use hemp instead of cannabis) to be shut down? The argument for medical marijuana will have the wind taken out of its sails since the compounds will be available to patients who need it, and those patients will be forced to pay whatever the pharmaceutical companies choose to charge. This isn’t speculation – it’s happened before.
Is “Big Pot” Coming?
Even Forbes, that bastion of conservative fiscal commentary, believes that the current rumblings toward legalization that we are seeing will end in the rule of “big marijuana.”
We don’t have a crystal ball to be able to tell exactly what is going to happen, but we can guarantee one thing pretty much for certain: rich, powerful corporations didn’t get that way by being stupid. When they see an opportunity to make money on marijuana, they will do absolutely everything they can to protect their interests and make sure they can maximize their profits absolutely as much as possible.