Republican Congressman Fears Cannabis Rescheduling Will Allow Big Pharma to Take Control of Industry
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) believes the pharmaceutical industry could overrun the marijuana market unless more reform passes.
It has been an extremely eventful summer for the cannabis industry in America. In May, Minnesota became the 23rd state to legalize adult-use marijuana. Likewise, voters in Ohio will get to decide if the Buckeye state becomes the 24th one to pass cannabis legalization reform this coming Election Day. Finally, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III on the federal government’s Controlled Substances List.
Overall, the movement to expand legal cannabis enjoyed a nice string of wins in the past few months. However, the news is not all good for some marijuana reform advocates. One of those wary supporters is Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Primarily known for his far-right political views and rhetoric, Gaetz is an unexpected yet surprisingly passionate and insightful ally to the legalization fight.
During a recent segment on Newsmax, where Gaetz filled in for the regular host, the Florida congressman discussed the current cannabis rescheduling recommendation made by the Department of Health and Human Services. Joining him in the discussion was attorney John Morgan, who has spent millions of dollars to get a medical cannabis initiative added to the ballot in Florida.
Morgan took the opportunity to criticize the status quo, which currently lists marijuana in the same scheduling category as heroin and meth. He also leveled accusations at Big Pharma and Big Alcohol for attempting to prohibit cannabis research because those studies could potentially back the notion of marijuana as a safer and healthier substitute for their more dangerous drugs.
Gaetz went further, expressing his belief that the government must do more than simply rescheduling. “Well, I totally concur with the assessment that marijuana reform is often blocked by Big Pharma because they want the opportunity to control it. My concern is that if we don’t go any further than moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, that could potentially allow Big Pharma to control it,” he said.
"Well, I totally concur with the assessment that marijuana reform is often blocked by Big Pharma because they want the opportunity to control it. My concern is that if we don’t go any further than moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, that could potentially allow Big Pharma to control it.”
- Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Ever the politician, Gaetz also couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a few jabs at President Biden’s decision to consider a scheduling reassessment. He suggested that the Administration’s move to make the change may have been motivated by new research revealing a strong correlation between cannabis legalization and a dramatic reduction in opioid-related hospitalizations.
Regardless, both men agreed that the move to reschedule cannabis is the right one at this time. When Gaetz asked Morgan what he thought about the HHS’ recommendation, Morgan’s answer was direct and to the point. “(It’s) a step in the right direction. It has to happen,” he said.
"(It’s) a step in the right direction. It has to happen.”
- Attorney John Morgan
However, both men concur that nothing short of full federal legalization is required to ensure the integrity and long-term viability of the young and burgeoning legal adult-use cannabis industry. Echoing those sentiments, some advocates have expressed fears that the scheduling move could lead to a more hands-on regulatory approach by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They also worry it could bolster the DEA to crack down more severely on state marijuana markets.
However, sector and agency experts have cast serious doubts about those scenarios due to a potential rescheduling. Moreover, neither regulatory body has indicated that an increase in monitoring or regulation is on the horizon.
When asked about the likelihood of a stricter enforcement change following rescheduling, one former FDA official, Howard Sklamberg, quickly pointed out that the FDA and the Justice Department have taken a mostly hands-off approach concerning the reform movement while cannabis is still a Schedule I narcotic. He added that it “defies logic” to believe the agencies would reverse course to aggressively enforce criminalization once marijuana moves to a less restrictive category.
All eyes are now on the DEA and its impending decision to either take or reject the HHS’ recommendation. Politicos and White House insiders strongly believe the agency will align with the Administration and make the scheduling change. If it does, a host of pro-cannabis political dominos will fall in place nicely for the industry, the most significant being the SAFE Banking Act currently languishing in Senate committee hearing purgatory.
However, it is worth pointing out that Gaetz and Morgan are right about one thing. If Congress and the White House do not continue to push the federal cannabis legalization agenda forward, the dubious and greedy hands of Big Pharma and Big Alcohol could swoop in and sully a promising and much-needed new American industry full of good jobs and a powerful economic punch.