John Stewart is the co-founder of a company called Emblem, which is one of 36 companies currently licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana through the mail in Canada. That in itself may not be terribly newsworthy, until you consider the fact that only three years ago John Stewart was the CEO of Purdue Pharma, the maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin.
Now Stewart and his company stand to be one of many that erode profits and market share from companies like Purdue Pharma. With mounting evidence that people with access to medical marijuana tend to prefer it over prescription pills and that cannabis is helping fight the opioid overdose epidemic, medical marijuana could very well be the death of what is known as “Big Pharma.”
Ironically enough, Stewart credits Purdue Pharma with sparking his interest in medical cannabis. At one point it seems the company did some research into medical marijuana but ultimately chose not to pursue it. When Stewart left Purdue he decided that he would pursue it himself.
As you can imagine, Stewart is looked at with skepticism from many in the cannabis community; a community that has seen “Big Pharma” do everything in its power to keep people on pills and away from cannabis.
“Nobody says it to me to my face: ‘We are terrified big pharma’s going to come take over this industry.’ However, they are,” he said. “These days nobody wants big pharma, particularly in the United States, to do anything.”
Considering the fact that opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999 and over 165,000 people have died since then from opioid-related overdoses, there is good reason for many to not want pharmaceutical companies involved with a medicine that has killed no one during thousands of years of use.
In the end, however, keeping all traces of Big Pharma out of the legal cannabis industry is not something that is feasible, in Canada or the U.S. Some of these people have experience and capital that will be beneficial to the new industry.
And we must remember not to paint the pharmaceutical industry with too broad a brush. Modern medicine has done much to help humankind become much healthier than in centuries past, and even drugs like OxyContin have their place in treating those who are in dire pain. Just because people in a certain industry strive to do their utmost to protect their own self-interests doesn’t mean that same drive and aptitude can’t be used to help people when applied to the cannabis industry.