CANNAINVESTOR Magazine February / March 2017 - Page 68


Prior to authoring this article, I have never viewed big pharma as a threat to the U.S. state-licensed cannabis industry. The sudden change in my attitude is because of actions that GW Pharmaceuticals (GWPH) has taken in Nebraska and South Dakota. Yes, Nebraska and South Dakota!

In December, United Kingdom-based GW Pharmaceuticals announced the formation of an operating unit in the U.S., Greenwich Biosciences, Inc. At the time I wondered why GW Pharma didn’t name their new subsidiary with a name tied-to its corporate name, such as GW Pharma USA. It’s now becoming clear that GW’s decision was likely made to take the future heat off of GW itself, and instead, let the unknown new company Greenwich Biosciences, take the fallout for what was going to come.

I don’t see conspiracies lurking everywhere. But GW Pharma’s actions through Greenwich Biosciences are a threat to America’s new and fast-growing hemp and CBD industries. I haven’t noticed any national cannabis or hemp policy groups or patient advocates that have been aware of GW’s strategy, so the company’s actions are definitely flying under the radar screen. Up until now, GW has been able to hide behind its front company, Greenwich Biosciences.

GW has very quietly, and one could say covertly, hired lobbyists and managed to have bills introduced in the Nebraska and South Dakota legislatures. If passed by the legislatures and signed into law, these bills could have significant implications for the legality and availability of CBD products in those two states. The two bills, which are essentially clones of each other, would give GW a monopoly for the sale of products that include CBD in those states.

Why Nebraska and South Dakota when neither state allows medical cannabis? I think it likely that GW selected these two states precisely because there is no state-sanctioned cannabis industry. GW’s thought process being that legislative action would occur quickly and with minimal scrutiny due to the lack of any organized protest by Nebraska and South Dakota cannabis caregivers and patients.

The South Dakota bill, SB 95, had its first committee hearing last week. The bill exempts CBD from the state definition of marijuana and moves it under state law, from a state-designated Schedule I drug to a Schedule IV substance.

What’s critical for GW Pharma is that these bills only affect drugs that contain CBD that have received federal approval by the FDA. Epidiolex is currently the only plant-derived CBD drug that is within the realm of obtaining FDA approval. It’s clear that GW, through Greenwich Biosciences, wants to be the sole option for patients in those states and have a monopoly on the sale of products containing CBD.

Interestingly, GW has also engaged registered lobbyists in at least nine other states. It would appear that the company plans to seek the introduction of similar legislation in those states as well.