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Sunil Kumar Aggarwal Headshot

Cultivating Local Medical Cannabis Systems Is the Way Forward

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The message that the public receives from the American federal government -- specifically the DEA -- when it's petitioned to recognize marijuana's utility as a medicinal agent is that it cannot do so because marijuana lacks approval from the Food and Drug Administration for any indication. Nevermind scores of other botanicals are routinely used in standard mainstream medical practice such as aloe vera, saw palmetto, tea tree oil, Witch-hazel (main ingredient in Tuck's pads), etc., without having achieved FDA-approval for any condition. Many doctors and patients prefer to use such medicinal plants for their superior side effect profile, low cost, and efficacy, and nobody is raising a huge fuss over this.

A number of years ago, however, the DEA decided to allow industrial, mass-produced, highly standardized marijuana produced by a British pharmaceutical company to be brought into the United States for a series of large clinical trials with the goal of getting the highly standardized marijuana product FDA-approved for interstate marketing. Since the company, GW Pharmaceuticals, has already won approvals from the national drug agencies of over 20 other countries, it is very likely that they would be able to do so in the U.S. With the company's stock now being traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange, it is clear that the company's fortunes and size, like the cannabis plants in their English greenhouses, are growing taller day-by-day.

What is interesting about this is that the DEA and former American Drug Czar office staffers who have been hired to tout the company have revealed a very core fact about what types of marijuana cultivation and utilization for medicinal purposes will be endorsed, supported, and financially rewarded and what types will be opposed, stymied, and criminally prosecuted. In this age of global warming and economic deprivation, what is being fostered by the DEA is the old industrial model of medicine: mass production, standardization, and monopoly production, allowing only a handful of employees of a single company the privilege to privately cultivate cumulatively thousands upon thousands of marijuana-cannabis plants, the starting seeds for which were obtained from a rich Dutch seedbank which had collected deposits from around the world. The company's R&D program has brought a liquid carbon dioxide whole-plant extraction made from two cannabis strains, one high in THC and the other high in CBD, to American states that lack any kind of medical marijuana laws and allowed select patients with severe pain due to cancer the chance to utilize this marijuana when enrolled as part of a research study. The results of their studies do indeed show, in large, multicenter, randomized placebo-controlled trials -- exactly the kind that DEA says do not exist -- that marijuana works.

At the same time, as more and more states attempt to move forward with establishing their own local systems of cannabis production for medical purposes -- systems that have the potential to create local self-sufficiency for producing and supplying cannabis at reasonable cost and even empowering patients to be able to produce their own medicine through gardening -- the response from the DEA and DOJ is selective arrests, raids, intimidation, and asset forfeiture, resulting in increasingly restrictive laws, many of which now disallow patient cultivation and unfairly restrict eligible patient populations. Moreover, these laws allow no opportunities to support research and development to further improve cannabis medicines, mainly because of federal restrictions. They do, however, give some patients needed relief, many of whom cannot and should not have to wait indefinitely for the federal solution to "the medical marijuana problem." Some apologists for the federal control model suggest that patients who have shown clear benefit from locally produced medical cannabis, such as those with severe neurological disorders documented by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, be switched to some future pharmaceuticalized cannabis or to a federal supply of cannabis, such as from the federal farm in Mississippi, which supplies only four patients today who are grandfathered into a now-closed program. In other words, these apologists would tamper with a locally developed solution that is clearly successfully working for patients in order to preserve centralized control of cannabis production.

Why is the federal government not fostering local medicinal cannabis systems, and instead choosing to support the top-down, one-supplier model? Following the recommendations of the American Herbal Products Associations, we need to be decentralizing medical cannabis. This is the only way to ensure that most who need it will be able to access it at a reasonable cost and that discovery and innovation can be optimized. There is nothing inherently amiss with cannabis-based pharmaceutical production, but the operation of such industry and its eventual product approval should not be allowed to exclude or impede general medicinal access to the class of organic botanicals from which such preparations are ultimately derived. If people understood that this decision to allow only 'the few' to legitimately produce cannabis rather than 'the many' was being made on their behalf, perhaps they would be compelled to stand up for a right that is essential for all: to farm and cultivate members of the Plant Kingdom in your locality.

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