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From colonial times when the hemp plant was grown and used to make sailing ropes and canvases, to today’s world where (the higher THC-level) cannabis is approved for medical use – the role of cannabis in society, and business, has very much evolved over time. Dr. James Kurnick, Founder and CEO of MassMedicum, provided an overview of the historic and current cannabis market during the September 28 NSTC Business Breakfast in Peabody, MA.

Cannabis (marijuana) has been illegal for recreational use in the U.S. since the 1930s, while growing hemp was outlawed in the 1970s – mainly because its appearance is similar to cannabis and therefore difficult to detect illegal activity, Kurnick said. Over the past 20 years, states have begun to legalize marijuana for medical use, and since 2012 four states and the District of Columbia have even approved it for recreational use.

Kurnick noted that cannabis is not currently a prescription drug, therefore it is not regulated on a federal level by the FDA or DEA. In Massachusetts, marijuana is available to patients for medical use via an approval letter from a physician, and is available at seven different dispensaries throughout the state. The state’s Department of Health closely controls the dispensing of marijuana by issuing a photo identity card for all patients who have approval, and by only allowing cardholders themselves to physically enter a dispensary.

During his presentation, Kurnick outlined the range of areas where marijuana can be effective in medical treatment, including seizures and other neurological disorders, pain management, for cancer patients, and in gastrointestinal conditions. Cannabis comes in many forms, from the traditional rolled cigarette to waxes, salves, and vaporizers that enable accurate dosing.

Critics of legalized marijuana cite its reputation as a “gateway drug,” however oxycodone – which is prescribed by physicians for pain – is proving to be a much more serious problem, as it is a gateway to heroin and overdose deaths, Kubrick said. He noted that in states where marijuana is approved for medical use, there are actually fewer pharmaceutical prescriptions written per physician, for example 1,800 fewer prescriptions for pain medications and over 500 fewer for anxiety (per doctor).

The cannabis market saw a 74% national growth rate in 2014, Kubrick said, and is expected to exceed $1 billion by 2020 in the state of Massachusetts if a current ballot initiative passes that would legalize it for recreational use.

Kurnick is a physician and scientist with an interest in assuring the same principles applied to conventional medications are followed for development of cannabis-based therapeutics. His company, MassMedicum, is one of the first 15 companies to receive provisional license approval from the state Department of Health to operate a Registered Marijuana Dispensary (RMD).

The breakfast event was sponsored by Ulen & Bennett Associates, certified public accountants located in Haverhill and Danvers, MA.