The Implications of Cannabis Ownership

A brief history

It may not be news that Eli Lilly, along with what is now part of Pfizer, had sold Cannabis based medicines up until the 1920’s and 30’s.This should be near indication enough that there was an expressed interest in the medical properties of this plant well before prohibition.

If it weren’t though, there is a laundry list of other companies who have not only expressed interest in medical processes using Cannabis, but have gone so far as to patent specific applications for various cannabinoids. G

W Pharmaceuticals, Corbus Pharmaceuticals, and of course our own U.S. Health and Human Services Department have staked their claim to medical applications of specific cannabinoids.

Within a bureaucracy it seems to be perfectly acceptable to hold the notion in one department that this plant is a Schedule I Narcotic with no medical application, and in another receive a patent for a fairly significant medical application for the same plant. There are just so many departments.

How is it even possible to patent something like a compound in a plant that we’ve known has grown naturally for over 5,000 years? Well, thanks to a 1980 decision by the Supreme Court; if it can be shown that anything in question of patent protection has been altered enough against nature—it could enjoy this protection. There is also the 1930 Plant Protection Act also, which defines the term “inventor” as not only someone who creates something new, but also someone who finds or finds out. So whether it’s intellectual property regarding new software, or a geranium that’s pigment has been slightly altered, both could potentially enjoy patent protection and enforcement.

Moving forward

So, what is the issue with this level of ownership? Well, while the enforcement would be difficult, if not impossible, this kind of claim to what are naturally occurring compounds within every plant has major implications. Imagine one or a handful of companies owning the rights to the very chemical makeup of what may be the most ubiquitous plant on Earth. Again, probably impossible to enforce, but if the scheduling status changes to say II or III than the task of understanding many of the medical applications will be left to a handful of pharmaceutical companies. While the research that is so desperately needed to move our understanding of this plant forward should be handled by organizations who specialize in gathering that information, this cannot be another surrender of access to what should be everyone’s right.

While US patent law is amoral and nonjudgmental, enabling patents to be held even in direct contradiction to existing law, many companies are initiating what could be the eventual new marketplace of patent enforcement. This battle hasn’t even begun. When the day finally comes that Cannabis is able to enjoy more of the liberties of an agricultural commodity, we will have to be ready for legal recourse to be taken against those using cannabinoids without patent approval. The notion of this plant being swept up in the satchel of some conglomerate’s personal property is atrocious. There may not be any entity with legal rights to the whole plant, but sweeping applications for its naturally occurring cannabinoids is enough reach to see the medical market dominated by outsiders with little more interest than to continue business as usual.

To learn more about the patents held by our US Health and Human Services Department as well as multiple pharmaceutical companies, visit the websites below:

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