What Gottlieb got Right and Wrong about Cannabis Regulations

cannabis as a medicine so regulate it like medicine

The former head of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, made some recent comments during the Pellegrino Award luncheon at Samford University’s School of Pharmacy about cannabis regulations. Of course, as one would imagine, most of them weren’t positive. Surprisingly, they weren’t all negative either.

Today, we’ll be analyzing some of his points and see whether or not Gottlieb is onto something, or whether he’s completely off. We’ll be considering his points as unbiased as possible, but considering that everybody’s perceptions are subjective…we’ll see how unbiased we can get.

If Cannabis is “Medical” it should be regulated

The first point highlighted by various news outlets made by Gottlieb reads as follows;

“If we believe that cannabis has medicinal potential, we should enable suitable research rather than bypass these norms through wholesale legalization…”

Within this line of commentary, there are a few truths and a few misguided conclusions. Firstly, “if we believe cannabis is medical, we should enable suitable research…” This point is spot on. For the medical aspects of cannabis consumption, we should be pouring billions into research and development.

We should have hundreds of licensed growers, labs and researchers going to town on the plant. Why? The more we know, the better we can use it. The medical cannabis industry will become more “pharmaceutical” as time advances. As researchers uncover the specific mechanisms of the plant, we’ll be able to adapt it to treat condition-specific ailments through designer cannabinoid, flavonoid, and terpenoid cocktails to boost certain functionality within our own bodies.

This is all good. However, the second part of his comment ignores other issues that cannabis prohibition creates. Firstly, “wholesale legalization” is the only way we’ll be able to address social issues caused by a problem stemming from the policy. People are having their freedoms revoked for the choice of consuming a plant.

While there might be “potential health risks” we don’t know of yet, the real social and political implications of prohibition fuels criminal organizations, limit the police’s ability to enforce good laws, pits the civilian consumer as an “enemy of the state”, and a wealth of other ills.

Wholesale legalization is essential in stopping the social ills associated with prohibition. We cannot simply look at cannabis as a “medical” plant since its effects go far beyond pure medical applications. Furthermore, we have more than enough research to indicate that cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco, which are legal drugs, that the risk profile of legalization would have little to no impact on the public health in general. Thus, to keep it “illegal because we don’t know” is the same as saying “keep those folks in jail while we look into the microscope” while knowing that it’s safer than the two most consumed legal drugs on the planet with a much higher risk profile. This is not a justifiable position.

The Research is “thin”

Gottlieb also stated that while they have the scientific technology and knowledge to conduct rigorous testing on cannabis, there has been a restriction on the type of research permitted by the DEA.

“Cannabis has been around a long time. There’s been plenty of time to develop rigorous science to affirm its purported medicinal benefits… Still, the body of evidence is “thin” — and the existing research would never pass muster with the Food and Drug Administration”

While he acknowledged the role of the DEA and the restrictions on research and the singular source of supply from the government (which produces far inferior cannabis crops than the cannabis marketplace”; he calls them “addressable challenges”.

What Gottlieb gets right is that yes, they are addressable on paper; however, historically this has not been the case. Ever since the dawn of cannabis, there have been periodic requests from organizations such as NORML and other research facilities, all of which have been systematically delayed, stifled and denied over the decades.

While it’s true (on paper), it’s not true (in practice). Only recently, the DEA was forced to open up the bids to expand research and supply. But this was done through “wholesale legalization”. The government would have never moved an inch if states weren’t legalizing on their own.

The research is “thin” not because people weren’t conducting research, but rather that it was limited and impossible to do on the FDA’s scale without prior government permission. Gottlieb also failed to mention that the FDA commissioner did have the ability to write a recommendation to the Head of the DEA to make research more available – yet, this never happened.

Thus, in the case that the previous head of the FDA complains about the thin research is laughable because he was partly responsible for the “thinness” of the research. You can’t deny people the research and then call it thin…that’s simply disingenuous.

Address Complex Public Health and Regulatory Issues Objectively

Finally, Gottlieb called for us to “put aside the stigma” and to look at these things objectively. Well, this is essentially what every cannabis activist has touted since they realized that prohibition was a scam. It only took millions of dead bodies due to a bloody drug war, gargantuan criminal enterprises and an inflated prison population for these Fed Heads to figure out what stoners have known forever.

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