"We're just working out the details before we go public with it."
"Let me tell you how the big pharma industry works," said the DEA lawyer, picking up a glass of chardonnay and swirling it around. We were having lunch at Shutters on the Beach, and the wine, for which I would pay, cost $150 a glass. But he had promised to answer some questions from readers of my groundbreaking article entitled "US Gov't Will Legalize Marijuana August 1." http://www.smobserved.com/story/2016/06/28/news/us-govt-will-legalize-marijuana-on-august-1/1484.html
"I'll tell you how this industry works. The big pharma people take the DEA leadership to dinner to discuss the legalization of Marijuana, how it's going to really work. They say:
'Listen, you and I both know that cannabis is much less dangerous, much less addictive than a lot of other Schedule II stuff that we already sell, such as Oxycontin. Why don't you just let us go ahead and sell a few products, THC extract, TBD oil, so we can all make some money. Instead of all these small time weed clinic guys with their dispensaries banking the cash, let us bank it. The side effects are probably not nearly as bad as other drugs like Oxycontin. Because they're not the result of chemists committing unnatural acts with molecules. And a few years from now, when you need a job, you can come work for me.' I'm certain that's how it works (with my superiors)."
He's a tall man, a tall blue eyed DEA lawyer. I'll call him "Deep Throat." He met with me on condition I not write anything that might compromise his identity, because he was not authorized to speak to the press. I read him questions from readers, and he answered them over filet mignon and wine.
1. Does this mean insurance companies - including ones with Medicare or Medicaid patients will have access to prescriptions, and having the cost covered by their insurance company at the pharmacy? Like any other drug?
Yes, absolutely. Under State law, coverage exclusions would run into Federal issues. It's always a plan by plan question, but as a default I would say it would be covered. Why not? As long as prescription medications are covered, under ERISA or other Federal law.
2. Stan, the DEA actually stated in a memo to lawmakers a couple of months back that they would be deciding on marijuana scheduling by the end of June. The Denver Post story talking about July 1 isn't stating anything new. But THIS story certainly is! Congratulations! I've been sharing it all over.
Yes, and did you notice how the July 1 deadline came and went? Just as a matter of logic, the statement that nothing is new is wrong. The decision has already been made, folks. Schedule II marijuana is in the works. We're just working out the details before we go public with it.
3. This will destroy the existing industry. How about all the people that spent their life savings to get licensed and open up a dispensary? How about all the manufacturers of oils and edibles that won't be able to conform to FDA regulations? Clinical trials are lengthy and expensive. CVS will be responsible for selecting product for consumers. The black market will explode again.
[Sighs, looks at his salad again]. Yeah, I keep hearing that. Yes, it might destroy the existing industry. Maybe it should. Because the public would be better served by pharmacists. Of course they would be.
The DEA might never squeeze them for it (if they did sell weed), but the Pharmacists can't fill a marijuana clinic recommendation, or they'd risk losing their licenses. And it's illogical, they're exactly the people who should be in (medicinal cannabis). The people that we at the DEA regulate, are exactly the people who should enjoy the legal right to sell marijuana products. That's fair, and also in the public interest.
If all this state regulation is superceded by General regulation, I don't see why that's a bad thing. Don't you trust CVS more than some random dude who sells weed products? This industry as it is now is operating in a grey area. It would be better for patients and society if it were not a public health or safety issue.
4. The problem is allowing the whole MJ plant to be legal. What the layman does NOT understand is there are specific parts of the plant that are harmful, and others that do have very solid evidence-based research to support it. THC is mood altering, and harmful to any human < 25yrs old. Many peer reviewed studies linking THC to schizophrenia, reduced motivation, reduced education, etc. Cannabidiol however is incredible. Proven research for its benefits.
[throws down his fork] Yes yes yes, and moving marijuana to Schedule II is all about allowing people to do clinical research. I'm all in favor of that, as are my colleagues at the DEA.
Personally though, I don't see how you can just wave a magic wand and say all this weed stuff is now Schedule II. This will have to go thru the same trials as anything else on Schedule 4. We parse through what is or is not a drug on the plant.
And that opens the possibility that what is more controversial could survive. But you're open to some real possibility that some stuff will not survive for having to go thru FDA approval, with FDA saying what they like and don't like. Exhaustive scientific studies will be performed, including human studies. And again, this is something others would be able to pay for. Describing a side effect would remove credibility from those people on the margins
You couldn't just say Hemp is good, you could say it's through the FDA wringer. If parts are good and parts aren't, we're gonna find out. And that's something your local green clinic operator will never do for you, would he?
5. It's about time... We need to remove marijuana from the DEA drug schedule list. Look at alcohol, it has no more currently accepted medical use than marijuana and has a high potential for abuse. We need to stop destroying lives and regulate marijuana like alcohol. If the legalization of marijuana stops one alcohol overdose, what's a life worth?
I hear this comparison a lot. It's fair to raise the argument that alcohol is destructive when abused. In a way that pot isn't, though marijuana does some stuff alcohol doesn't. Our current alcohol regime is a result of an historic compromise over decades. The comparison fails because of the different history.
There's a huge problem with addiction in the US, you can talk about opiods, alcohol, video games (laughs). There's a big problem with addiction that America doesn't yet recognize or do anything about.
Does the danger of addiction with marijuana outweigh its therapeutic benefits? Maybe there's an under investment in addiction in the US, the AMA has resisted spending more money on it. That's another reason why a lot of this argument has to be looked at with a jaundiced eye, because of all the money being spent on it.
These weed clinic people; they're not trained clinicians. How would they know from records? They have no organized system of record keeping. It's like saying gangsters should still have control over alcohol. It doesn't mean the dispensaries are evil people, it's just a lack of record keeping that would give them experience.
An essential element in medical record keeping is the standard of care. It's frankly a political compromise, and it's been set up over time.
There may be individual weed clinic people who are awesome at it, but as a group, the pharmacists have it beat. Because they're heavily regulated and licensed people.
You know, we are living through a time as momentous as the end of Prohibition in 1933. Believe me, we at the DEA are mindful that everything we do, sets an historical precedent. But here's my point:
Where's the fairness in letting dispensary guys cash in on this, but excluding the big pharma guys, Rite Aide, CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacists, who have studied and worked for years to earn the right to sell drugs? I mean, does that sound right to you?
6. While we are dutifully cognizant that the DEA got their hands slapped and money financing raids and trials, this sounds preposterous. Simply a move to strike against the current industry. If it is moved to a schedule 2 all MMJ clinics will no longer be allowed to operate at all since they are not doctors or pharmaceutical companies. We're then totally left to rot and the states wouldn't be able to protect us. So our patient base is totally screwed. If you get cancer in their use to specific strain that has the right cannabinoids in them they won't be able to get them. And smoking is out now? Really how stupid is that. Lung cancer patients will no longer be able to have treatment to their lungs. Well cannabis is not a miracle for everyone it is a miracle for those who need it and use it. I think them putting it as a schedule2 knocks out the entire cannabis industry.
[Deep Throat freezes in place cutting his meat, while listening to the question] This is jumping to lot of conclusions. Some of your readers obviously smoke too much weed, Stan. Anxiety and paranoia are documented side effects of too much pot. Which they would know if they were real patients taking real medications with real warnings on regulation packaging.
I will remind everyone that Congress vested the DEA with authority to enforce the Nation's drug laws. Don't even think of challenging our authority. Because ultimately, what you will get to use is only what we will allow.
If your readers really want to be paranoid, they can consider the possibility that there's a reason I'm talking to you today, and it's to float a few trial balloons. That's all I have to say on that subject.
7. So what's the bottom line? Is medical marijuana legalization really going to happen this year?
[levels his blue eyes at mine]. Yes. Because there's too much money to be made. And because it's an important public policy and because there are already a lot of people using cannabis. This activity is going to happen on the margins anyway. It's unimaginable that it would just be allowed to continue forever on the margins.
As regulators, we owe it to the 25 million daily marijuana users in this country to regulate the field. Besides, there's too much money to be made.
But there is also danger. Two people, two medical marijuana clinic employees were shot this month in San Bernardino County alone. How can we as regulators allow the present system, the present chaos really, to continue?
At that point the DEA lawyer stood up and shook my hand. I thanked him for his time, paid the bill, and he walked off into the California sun, like so many lawmen before him.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a United States federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Justice, tasked with combating drug smuggling and use within the United States. Not only is the DEA the lead agency for domestic enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act, sharing concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it also has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing U.S. drug investigations abroad.