Could legal pot give Big Pharma a much-needed high?

Medical marijuana is already massively profitable for a handful of states, so it's no surprise pharmaceutical giants want in on the action.

By InvestorPlace May 31, 2011 10:18AM

Though it may not be politically correct to talk about the benefits of legalizing marijuana, the bottom line is that many folks are believers in the power of pot as a medication. And those believers include Big Pharma executives looking to boost their bottom lines.

Consider that medical marijuana sales in the U.S. already will reach $1.7 billion this year, with nearly $250 million coming from Colorado, according to a report released in March.  Further, the report predicts that medical marijuana sales will reach $8.9 billion if 20 more states allow its sale for medical use. 

If the U.S. government ever legalizes marijuana, sales would probably make the $11 billion Pfizer (PFE) raked in on Lipitor worldwide last year look like chump change.

Medical marijuana markets currently exist in Colorado and six other states and will open this year in five more. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If people could use marijuana nationwide without the fear of getting busted, some industry observers say, the market would likely be in the $10 billion to $40 billion range and could even top $100 billion annually.

Given the dollars at stake, it’s easy to see why Big Pharma wants in on the action. And recent developments indicate that soon they may be competing with your friendly neighborhood pot dealer.

Just last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration said 55 unnamed companies have been granted licenses to grow cannabis in the United States. Observers say the pharmaceutical companies need the pot farms to cultivate weed so they can produce a generic version of the THC pill Marinol, which is marketed by Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (WPI ), and at least one other cannabis-based pill for a wide variety of new uses.

But to grow pot and put organic THC and CBD in pills, the DEA to would need to move organic THC down from Schedule I to the far less restrictive Schedule III, where synthetic THC Marinol currently resides. That’s exactly what drug companies have requested.  And by all indications, their wish is likely to be granted.

These developments have sparked outrage among advocates for legalizing marijuana. They wonder why big companies will be able to grow pot, put it in a pill and call it medicine while those who grow it at home or in a city-permitted pot farm face felony charges and jail. Good point. But welcome to the world of big business, where large companies have high-powered lobbyists pleading their cases in Congress every day.

So which companies are among the fortunate 55 starting up their own pot farms?  Probably Watson. Another likely candidate is Valeant Pharmceutical International (VRX), which has a THC prescription drug marketed under the name Cesamet. You can probably add the list such Big Pharma names as Pfizer, Merck (MRK), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Bristol Myers-Squibb (BMY). Novartis (NVS) is probably in there, too, considering the company once tested a cannabinoid agonist to treat chronic pain.

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May 31, 2011 1:24PM

It's incomprehensible that considering the astronomical costs of drugs for pain, anxiety and other maladies that marijuana is still illegal. Not to mention the cost of enforcing, prosecuting and incarcerating otherwise innocent people for use, growing (manufacturing- how crazy is that use of the definition?!!!) and or possession of this plant.


It was said very eloquently that the continued oppression of the government regarding marijuana is itself immoral, unethical, obscene and of course the height of hypocrisy. I agree and I would bet a million dollars a majority of us agree with this and that we as a country should change this once and for all.

May 31, 2011 3:38PM
Been doing it for 45 years. Never wrecked, never arrested. No lung cancer so far. Put the big money crooks out of bisiness and stop the Mexican madness. Tax it, sell it , cut my income taxes !
May 31, 2011 2:34PM
my wife has screws in one foot,a new right hip,and a knee been opened up a couple times.been popping pills like candy for a long time.our son,in his 20's got her to try,what a differance,less pills,and she even smiles now.quit giving money to the ****ers and make this as a treatment for pain and it,get some real companys growing and providing.lets pull our heads out of the 30's.
May 31, 2011 2:09PM

I AGREE WITH JOE. way to go Joe, you've said it ALL.

they can legalize the booze, and i do strongly believe pot is much less harmful.


and they should not use some silly pansy **** girl to to some bogus computer driving test to see if it affect's a person's driving skills.


i am used and driven countless times. not 1 accident, not 1 ticket. proof is in the puddin'


May 31, 2011 2:08PM

Legal drugs means no buisness for drug cartels which could be why a drug war has broken out and is spilling across our borders . Like the liquor gangs of the prohibition era , drug cartels would lose their power and money and are fighting to extract the last penny before legilazation occurs . Which it will as soon as all of the major Pharm companies and politicans get all of the facts straight on who controls what and who gets paid what . I do not support legalization of drugs but like anything else in our preverse society , the people really have no rights at all.

May 31, 2011 2:49PM

I'm against smoking marijuana. I have mixed feelings because I studied Chinese History in how the British doped up the Chinese which the Turks had enough brought upon the Boxer Rebellion.


I do support legalization this could free up space in the prison systems and reduce our burden of tax dollars placed into the system where REAL hardened criminals belong. Make the legalization strict. Go through a background check if you want to be a grower. Legal Sellers do not make a substantial profit because they have to re-invest back into growing it by LAW. For those with recretional purposes, treat it like alcohol. ID them to see if they are 21. If they are a medical patient, provide a discount.


If you are under the influence of marijauan while driving you should be arrested.


marty said:

"i am used and driven countless times. not 1 accident, not 1 ticket. proof is in the puddin'"


I know people who smoked and crashed into trees, telephone poles, ran into ditches, etc. You may not have any issues but I've seen countless others under the influence and get into car trouble.


Overall, I rather see pot heads than DEAD HEADS the Cartel puts on long pikes.

May 31, 2011 3:45PM
That the drug helps people medically is fine, but it should be legalized for the sake of freedom. People should be allowed to smoke in the privacy of their homes and property without fear of arrest and all the legal and financial burden that comes with the justice systems enforcement of something that they cannot and have not ever had a handle on.  People caught driving under the influence should have the book thrown at them. I'm still very much in favor of people being responsible. Of course, plenty of people wont be, but we're not looking for utopia or a perfect world here.
May 31, 2011 2:38PM
At the cost of everyday prescriptions to the consumer, why do they even need pot to boost profits???

 Cough syrup for my child cost $80 for 3 days. 2-3 ml in the morning and 2-3 at night. I was shocked at such a tiny amount in the bottle.

Looks to me like they don't need anymore profits, who the he#l can afford to get sick.Just as well die.

May 31, 2011 1:55PM
why would it benefit big pharm, users would just grow their own cutting out the crooks
May 31, 2011 4:29PM

Again a big pharmacy looking to make obscene profits. Every 10 minutes the ads for new meds to relieve some ailment are being market to the public and the cost of these drugs far exceed the cost of marijuana with far less side effects. Legalize and tax the same as alcohol. The revenue generated by the legal sale would stimulate the local economies and free our law enforcement and legal justice system to concentrate on real criminals. The processing and incarceration of marijuana is costing the tax payers billions of dollars that could be used to boost the education short fall of this over taxed society. People should be responsible to make their own decisions without government telling us what we can do, where we can work, what we should eat. Last time I checked this is America home of the free and the brave.

May 31, 2011 3:41PM

Legalize it,run it by the state and use the profits for education and economic development but under no circumstances should "BIG PHARMS" be allow to participate they have screwed up health care too much already.


As the recession has proven you can not continue to provide education dollars, public safety, roads & infrastructure, social services and general governmental services on sales & income tax or the backbone of property owners.


What is needed is a new source of revenue to state government (not that the current system does not need some fixing)  for these services.  Recently I read an article analyzing the Great Depression and how the economy was turned around.  Putting people people to work with discretionary money in their pockets and to a large degree the repeal of prohibition which started new tax dollars flowing again.  The current answer - legalize pot but keep it out of the hands of big business drug companies.

May 31, 2011 3:21PM

And then people actually have the gall to say that they don't understand when people routinely practice 'civil disobedience.'  LOL  It is so easy to condemn something that does not affect you personally but the real justice, for lack of a better description, is when those doing the condemning suddenly find themselves in need of that which they rail against.


Most governmental organizations cater to the wealthy and powerful in their society and in some cases, such as in the countries plagued with the drug cartels, to those who instill the most fear in their hearts.  Here in the U.S. wealth, power, and influence are the kings of the hill (as in Washington D.C. 'The Hill')..  Criminalization of drugs has become one of the largest businesses in the United States simply because of all of the bureaucracies it has helped create.  Everything from local NARC units to the DEA owe their existence to these laws.  So does the prison system and much of our border patrol and Coast Guard who spend a large portion of their time in pursuit of drug and weapons smugglers.


Now it would seem that the large pharmaceutical manufacturers are going to manipulate this in such a way that they will profit once again from the suffering public by extorting exorbitant prices for something that they could grow in their back yards for nearly nothing.  It has been this way since this country was founded and before because the concept was alas imported by our European settlers.  All we have done is refine it and made it a little less violent.  Just as uncaring and just as evil in any case.  :=(( 

May 31, 2011 4:05PM
Seriously?? How is it possible that the DEA can give licenses for something that is Federally illegal?  Marijuana is a schedule 1 drug according to the DEA meaning it has NO medical use and is therefore illegal for everyone federally.  Did I miss marijuana becoming medically legal federally?  With these so called licenses, is the DEA acknowleging that marijuana is now medically acceptable?  Am I the only one confused?  Did they change the schedule of marijuana and move it to schedule II with cocaine?  How is this possible to have it both ways?  Anyone???
May 31, 2011 4:17PM
Free the weed. Shiot on big pharma crooks.  If they can grow so can I.  We can sure count on politicians to look out for us .
May 31, 2011 4:15PM
If the Federal Government  would legalize marijuana, tax it like they do Cigarettes, Just maybe the USA could get out of debt. Then our children's children could realize what freedom really is!! Instead the government will someday let some other country own us.
May 31, 2011 4:04PM

This is exactly why the public is so frustrated with Washington.  I'm conservative but know that it's the "Rich White Boys Club" that keeps their cronies happy and controls things.  I remember when congress was grilling the bankers, insurance guys and investment people who lost hundreds of billions of dollars.  It seemed so disingenuous that the House and Senate people in their high chairs doing the grilling have racked up a 14 trillion deficit making them the worst money managers in the universe and they are grilling these other guys for losing only "billions".  They should have asked to switch seats.  And part of that mess was cronyism and lack of oversight.


I have a fantasy dream to share.  A joint session of congress is in session and a huge sink hole opens up beneath them and they're all swallowed up at once.  Kind of makes you tingle inside.  Term limits without a vote and America has a chance to get real normal people running the government.  Unfortunately, only in my  dreams.

May 31, 2011 5:15PM

It's silly to think that Big Pharm wouldn't make alot of $ because people would just grow their own.  Growing your own is very time consuming and difficult to get high THC content.  Alcohol is legal but you don't see many people making their own liquor.


It'd be nice to be able to go to the corner market and pick up a bag at a reasonable price.

May 31, 2011 5:42PM
Isn't it hypocritical that legalizing pot was morally wrong until we hit a gvt. budget shortfall?
May 31, 2011 4:33PM
The difference now is that the drug co. managers play golf with the politicians who make policy and who are heavily invested in the pharmaceutical co's. When it means money for them, they can get real liberal, and quickly...
May 31, 2011 4:33PM
keep Big Pharma out  they're a bunch of greedy bastards  "don't  step on the grass Sam"
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