GOP congressman questions Tilray medical-cannabis imports to U.S.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who is spearheading a medical cannabis reform law, has questioned this week’s decision to allow Canada-based Tilray Inc. to import the drug for use in a clinical trial.
Tilray TLRY, -17.62% announced early Tuesday that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration signed off on the company’s plan to import a marijuana product from Canada in order to test its effectiveness in treating essential tremor. In an interview with MarketWatch on Thursday, Gaetz said the U.S. has the opportunity to build its own cannabis industry and he sees little reason to divert potential wealth to Canada.
“We just have to be not so stupid as to impair our own progress,” Gaetz said in a phone interview. “There is no reason for us to be creating wealth in Canada for cannabis companies by importing Canadian weed.”
Gaetz has been outspoken about the importance of medical research into cannabis for some time. Currently in the U.S., only the University of Mississippi is licensed to grow and harvest research-grade marijuana plants. More than 25 U.S.-based manufacturers have reportedly applied to the DEA to produce cannabis, but no action has been taken on those applications while Tilray was granted approval.
The lack of action is squarely the DEA’s fault, Gaetz said, pointing a finger at former acting head Robert Patterson and calling his lack of knowledge about the industry “embarrassing.” Following Patterson’s testimony earlier this year, Gaetz said it was “easy” to see why the DEA hadn’t approved more American companies for medical cannabis production.
For Tilray’s part, spokesman Zack Hutson said Thursday that the company is American and would be “delighted” to produce cannabis in the U.S. But, he said that it’s currently not feasible to do so under U.S. federal law, and thus the next best option is to import cannabis from its facilities in Canada.
“If Congress changes the law to allow for commercially feasible production of pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis, we’d be thrilled to create jobs and invest in the U.S. just like we have in Canada,” Hutson said in an email to MarketWatch. “We agree with Representative Gaetz that the U.S. federal government should enable instead of impede this rapidly growing, global and innovative industry. In the meantime patients and researchers in need shouldn’t have to wait on quality products to conduct critical scientific and medical research.”
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Last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted to move forward a bipartisan bill introduced by Gaetz that would loosen the restrictions on sourcing medical cannabis for research. Gaetz said the contradictory policies in the U.S. have led to American medical cannabis businesses seeking capital in Canada, a country that is set to legalize adult recreational use of the drug on Oct. 17. Cannabis is illegal under U.S. federal law, though several states such as California and Washington have legalized adult recreational use, and dozens allow the use of medical marijuana.
“It’s the dream of every Florida cannabis company to go public in Canada,” he said. “We need to make the cultivation of medical cannabis more available. We need to get the government out of the way of a new, innovative industry.”
When asked about the possibility of restricting or banning Canadian imports of medical cannabis, Gaetz said that he and his staff were engaged in “fact finding” and that it was too early to say.
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“I wouldn’t rule that out, but I would want to talk with my colleagues across the aisle,” he said. “So far the only way we’ve been able to move forward is broad bipartisan support.”
Gaetz said he has not discussed blocking Canadian cannabis imports with President Donald Trump or other White House officials.
Tilray stock fell 18% to $176.35 during the regular session Thursday, a day after a tumultuous trading session that saw the cannabis producer’s shares rise to an intraday high of $300. The stock, which was sold in a July initial public offering at $17 a share, was halted five times within an hour due to volatility Wednesday.
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