Big Pharma’s Opposition To Medical Marijuana: What’s Holding Them Back

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Photo Credit: Seth Perlman

Despite the thousands of studies proving the medical benefits of marijuana, which include treatment of neuropathic and chronic pain, there still are many parties that are opposing its legalization. Tobacco companies are some of the biggest stumbling blocks. However, it would be safe to say that the chief villain is Big Pharma.

Global pharmaceutical companies continue to block moves to make marijuana legal. Why are they doing so? Are they afraid that their medicines will no longer have a place on the market? Are they scared of the possible competition? Or, are they just concerned that the safety of users and children can be compromised because of the effects of marijuana? This post will provide you with a quick look at the reasons why Big Pharma is an opposing force.

Opposition to Squash the Competition

Perhaps, the biggest reason why Big Pharma is against medical marijuana legalization is the emergence of new competitors that will have a potential negative impact on their profitability. Indoor growing systems are being easier to establish and even the smallest businesses can compete with the supply of cannabis-based medications that these pharma companies can provide.

In 2016, Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company, donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. The latter was the biggest group that opposed the legalization of medical marijuana in Arizona. Insys is a company that is behind the production of a fentanyl-based spray. The latter is believed to be up to 100 times more potent than morphine and used as a painkiller.

Meanwhile, in 2014, the companies behind the production of Oxycontin and Vicodin have contributed to The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Purdue Pharma has also made a significant contribution to the campaign, which was once considered as the largest of its kind.

The assertion that Big Pharma is trying to kill the competition is the subject of one study conducted at the University of Georgia, as recently reported in Science Daily. Based on the findings of the study, prescription medicine use, specifically opioid use, is lower in states where medical marijuana is legal.

If you look at the other side of the coin, however, Big Pharma can work hand-in-hand with marijuana cultivators. The latter will provide supply what is needed in the production of medications that these companies will develop. This isn’t crashing the competition but joining forces.

Marijuana as a More Cost-Effective Alternative

Based on a survey that was sponsored by the Center for Addictions Research of British Colombia, 87 percent of those who participated gave up prescription medicine in favor of marijuana. In some member countries of the European Union, drug prices have already been lowered to be considered as cost-effective. However, when it comes to the associated cost, many still prefer the use of marijuana.

Quality control, market research, testing, and product development—these are just some of the factors that add up to the costs of medications developed by big pharmaceutical companies. They are the reasons why medicines are expensive. Drug approvals also take a long time and this can translate to bigger expenses. As for marijuana, the cost of production and distribution is significantly lower, which is why many would prefer it.

In 2017, a Health Affairs study noted that Medicaid could have saved up to $1 billion in prescription drugs if marijuana is legal. To be specific, these savings can originate from the treatment of glaucoma, anxiety, depression, seizure psychosis, and sleep disorder, among others. With these savings by the government, however, sales of medicines of pharma companies will suffer.

On Grounds of Safety

In an article in Entrepreneur, Alan Hirsch, the CEO of Diagnostic Lab Corporation, a cannabis safety and science company, said pharmaceutical companies are lobbying against marijuana legalization on the grounds of safety, even if in truth, they just want to have more time to develop their own marijuana-based medicines.

Big Pharma reasons out that child safety is compromised in the legalization of marijuana. In 2014, visits of children in emergency rooms in Colorado rose to 2.3  from 1.2 per 100,000 kids since marijuana became legal. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there also has been a significant increase in the number of accidental ingestion of narcotic painkillers.

However, it is important to note that even the World Health Organization says that medical cannabis is safe, according to an article in the Philipine Daily Inquirer. It is beneficial to humans without the threat of addiction.

At the end of the day, however, it is wrong to assume that Big Pharma is the scoundrel. Admit it or not, they have valid reasons to oppose the legalization of medical marijuana, especially considering the fact that it can be prone to abuse. Marijuana has a long way to go. As of now, Big Pharma may not yet be ready to embrace its legalization, but in the future, it could be an entirely different story.

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