Medical marijuana can be good for the brain. No less an authority than the federal government's Department of Health and Human Services says so: HHS awarded to a group of doctors in 2003 a patent titled "Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants," which recognized cannbinoids' value as a "neuroprotector" to combat dengeration of brain function in patients suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, HIV-related dementia, and other neurological ailments.
At this very moment, New York City-based Kannalife Sciences is seeking a license from the Department of Health and Human Services to develop medicines under this patent that would help treat hepatic encephalopathy, a decrease of brain function stemming from liver disorders.
Oddly enough, vocal opposition to this very specific use of medical marijuana is coming from a group of Los Angeles-based medical marijuana patients. The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients objects to the "hypocrisy" of the government potentially awarding patents to use pot medicinally while simultaneously locking up pot users, and enjoins other advocates of the drug to oppose awarding the patent to Kannalife in a petition on its website.
HHS is accepting public comment on Kannalife's proposal up until the end of business today, according to Betty Tong, a licensing and patent official with the department.
If the grant is awarded, Kannalife could begin pre-clinical trials of its cannabinoid-based medicine in about 18 months, according to Dean Petkanas, the company's New York-based CEO. The company can, legally and without violating the Controlled Substances Act, acquire the necessary cannabinoids from university or pharmaceutical sources, Petkanas told SF Weekly
This kind of federally sanctioned use of pot -- if the grant is indeed awarded -- might sound odd, but it's not unprecedented: The government approved a THC-based pill called Marinol in the 1980s, and GW Pharmaceuticals is, at this moment, conducting U.S. government-approved tests of another marijuana-derived drug, called Sativex.
Yet it's certainly raised the hackles of the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, which "does not believe that granting one corporation the exclusive right to develop and sell medical cannabis will serve the greater public interest in ensuring patient access," according to a posting on its website under the heading "Help Stop Government from Issuing Exclusive License for Medical Cannabis."
"It is a grave injustice that patient associations in California are now facing a coordinated and comprehensive attack by the DOJ, while one pharmaceutical company in New York stands to profit tremendously from the monopolization of medical cannabis thanks to the HHS," stated the union's James Shaw. "While such discrepancy among federal departments frustrates the democratic principle of equal protection, inconsistency exhibited within the Department of Health and Human Services itself is even more reprehensible."
This has raised a stir on the Interwebs among cannabis patients, one of whom posted an angry question on Kannalife's Facebook page
, as the national cannabis blog Toke of the Town pointed out
. "You guys get exclusive rights to a USD Gov't patent on medical marijuana as they put CA & CO dispensaries out of business?!" one posting read.
When contacted by SF Weekly
for an interview, union officials directed inquiries to a secretary spokeswoman, who clarified that the union's objection to Kannalife's grant application isn't so much against this very specific use of medical marijuana, but to the "federal government's hypocrisy." Fair enough: A federal agency awarding research grants would seem to fly in the face of repeated remonstrations from the Justice Department -- like U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who last week met with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) to remind him that the plant is deemed medically worthless -- that cannabis is illegal.
It's possible that the union might be overreaching a bit. After all, Kannalife is years away from developing medicines to combat brain function disorders in liver failure-sufferers, and is not currently in the running for any other marijuana-derived medicines, Petkanas said.
"I have nothing negative to say about the union," Petkanas said, while adding that the union may have "jumped the gun a bit" in its knee-jerk opposition to Kannalife's drug proposal.
And this gun-jumping is evident on Kannalife's Facebook page, where a host of folks purporting to be cannabis patients have posted angry screeds opposing the company. "KannaDeath," one wrote. "The whole thing smacks of corruption," wrote another.
It would be odd if these medical marijuana patients are successful in convincing the feds to limit the medical use of marijuana. As Petkanas opined, "In the theater of war, one might call it getting killed by friendly fire. How sad."
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