Last month, President Trump announced that Scott Gottlieb was his FDA pick. As such, he’ll head up the Food and Drug Administration. Gottlieb has since become the latest nominee to attract conflict and controversy.
As a physician, cancer survivor, and venture capitalist, he has extremely close financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Gottlieb is also an outspoken critic of the FDA, which he says keeps medical innovations from making it to market.
Critics argue that those regulations help protect consumers from drug companies that profit from dangerous prescription painkillers. Citing the widespread and deadly opioid epidemic, critics worry that Gottlieb will put the interests of Big Pharma ahead of public health.
But that’s not all. Trump’s FDA pick could also be a disaster for cannabis. Here’s why.
Scott Gottlieb And The Opioid Industry
Trump tapped Gottlieb to lead the FDA back in early March. However, his financial disclosure form came out just last week. It showed that Gottlieb earned more than $3 million from drug companies in 2016 and the beginning of 2017 alone.
That amount comes from speaking fees, consulting, board memberships, and his work at investment firms.
Of that $3 million, Gottlieb received $45,000 for giving speeches at firms that make and distribute opioid painkillers. One of those companies, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, produces a generic version of oxycodone. The company also came under legal fire for 500 million suspicious orders of the pill in Florida.
Gottlieb also has connections with Healthcare Distributors Alliance, a trade group for the biggest players in the U.S.’s opioid market.
Companies that are part of that group have supplied unusually large orders of painkillers in West Virginia. Specifically, the 780 million pills that were a key factor in the state’s recent overdose epidemic.
” need an FDA commissioner who will take on the opioid lobby, not one who has a track record of working for it,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University.
Big Pharma Vs. Legal Cannabis
The pharmaceutical industry has long been a leading opponent of legalization. As a whole, it’s thrown huge amounts of money, effort, and time at keeping weed illegal.
The connections between the pharmaceutical industry and the opioid epidemic make it clear why.
In states where medical cannabis is legal, doctors prescribe fewer painkillers. As a result, healthcare systems in those states save millions of dollars simply because fewer people are taking expensive prescription drugs.
And if legal medical cannabis is available, patients tend to choose it over prescription opioids. Many studies have shown the dangers of those addictive drugs. Almost 2 million Americans currently abuse prescription opioids, and 16,000 die each year from overdosing.
Similarly, studies show that cannabis could be an effective way to deal with these problems. States with legal weed have lower rates of opioid abuse and overdose. And some researchers say that cannabis can help people get off opioids.
Facing all this, drug companies have fought hard to keep opioids on top and cannabis out.
FDA Pick Is a Potential Disaster for Cannabis
If Congress confirms Gottlieb as Trump’s FDA pick, legal cannabis faces a major setback. Pharmaceutical companies have made huge profits from the deadly opioid epidemic.
Gottlieb has a long record of taking Big Pharma’s side. It’s reasonable to assume he could be a powerful ally for drug companies that want to keep weed illegal.
Things don’t look any brighter when you consider other recent activity coming out of Washington. In late February, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said there could be “greater enforcement” of anti-weed laws.
Similarly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke out against cannabis. He said it’s only “slightly less awful” than heroin. He also said that medical marijuana “had been hyped, maybe too much.”
In the face of all this, some lawmakers continue pushing to get weed legalized. Just this week, a group of politicians announced new proposals to legalize cannabis.