Since my days working for NORML I have been a chief proponent of the “Box Canyon” theory of medical marijuana. In a nutshell, the theory states “If you fight only for medical marijuana, your marijuana is going to be only medical.” While medical marijuana as a political strategy has opened up the country to further marijuana reforms, its eventual trajectory lies in the realm of pills, sprays, inhalers and tinctures of reliable dosage and consistency, manufactured by pharmaceutical companies to eliminate that dreaded side effect – the “high”.
The Box Canyon theory has borne out so far in the increasing qualifying restrictions in successive medical marijuana states. California started medical marijuana in 1996 with its famous catch-all qualification of “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” Thus, anyone with $40 and a compelling story was able to qualify for medical marijuana. So successive states create stricter qualifying condition lists until you wind up with Illinois’ list of 33 very specific polysyllabic conditions requiring detailed medical records.
The early Western medical marijuana states allowed for patients to grow their own cannabis. Soon, trunk-loads of marijuana with direct ties to medical marijuana gardens were being seized by cops in Midwestern states, leading the last eight states to pass medical marijuana laws that mandate dispensary shopping and do not allow for home growing.
Even in the western states with relatively lax medical marijuana laws, there is a tendency for medical marijuana patients to find themselves separated from the fight for overall legalization by fears that it will impact their medical use. California’s Prop 19 and Washington’s I-502 faced their only organized, well-funded opposition from medical marijuana dispensaries – in Washington, you actually had two campaigning sheriffs arguing over who supported legalization more while dispensary owners were spending prohibition profits to maintain the status quo!
Now the latest verification of the Box Canyon theory comes from the growing calls for legal “Alepsia”. This is the name given to the high-CBD oil manufactured in Colorado from Charlotte’s Web and other plants with a high CBD-to-THC ratio. Since it was featured in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Weed documentary, parents across the country whose children suffer from intractable epilepsy are clamoring for this miracle cure.
The top pediatric
oncologist neurologist in Utah, of all places, is supporting efforts by State Rep. Gage Froerer to import Alepsia from Colorado. Froerer theorizes that since Alepsia is so low in THC, it is no more illegal than hempseed oil you can buy at a Whole Foods. “I would like to express my strong belief that CBD-based oils should be available as soon as possible to Utah children with severe epilepsy,” said Francis Filloux, chief of University of Utah’s Division of Pediatric Neurology. “The substance is not psychoactíve or hallucinogenic, it contains less THC than do other materials that can be legally purchased in Utah, and it has absolutely no abuse potential.”
In Pennsylvania, State Sen. Daylin Leach has introduced medical marijuana bills over the past few legislative sessions, to no avail. Now, with the greater exposure to the plight of epileptic children on CNN, Leach will be introducing today a bill the legalizes only high-CBD / low-THC medical marijuana and it appears Leach’s previous Senate Bill 770, a standard medical marijuana bill with home growing provisions, will be left to die in committee.
Meanwhile, GW Pharmaceuticals has begun human trials on THC and CBD for treatment of brain cancer. GW is also the manufacturer of Sativex, which is a whole plant cannabis tincture approved for multiple sclerosis treatment in eleven countries and pending in eleven more. And just this week, GW won FDA approval of Epidiolex, its pharmaceutical version of high-CBD Alepsia, as an “orphan drug”. This designation fast-tracks GW’s efforts to test and market their Epidiolex to the children suffering from Dravet’s Syndrome, like the little girl who benefitted from the high-CBD oil in the CNN documentary.
With increasing speed the opponents of marijuana reform have realized that the tales of desperate epileptic children experiencing miracle relief from cannabis products opens the public’s mind to legalizing medical marijuana. So now they are pruning away that support by approving pharmaceuticals that treat those conditions as well or better than traditional whole plant cannabis. Soon, when there is Sativex, Epidiolex, and other formulations that reliably treat spasticity and seizures, pain and nausea, all without the dreaded “high”, you can bet the dispensaries will be forced to clear out their plant inventories in favor of measured, tested pharmaceuticals approved by the government and paid for by health insurance.
And then where are consumers who enjoy the plant left? In the same moral frame as people who chug cough syrup or crush and snort Oxycontin – recreational abusers of legitimate medicine. Medical marijuana is now in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. It’s time for the people who support the whole plant for all of its uses to come together and fight for full legalization – possession, home growing, and legal markets – which is the best medical marijuana access of all. We are now enjoying majority support for legalization nationwide and even statewide in places like Texas and Louisiana, so why bother continuing to push a medical frame that only serves to enrich GW Pharmaceuticals?