Pink Ribbon Investing

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We all know women and men who have suffered from this horrible disease. In 2014, approximately 300,000 new cases will be diagnosed and 40,000 women will die. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. To put it into perspective, that is still 40,000 times the number of U.S. deaths from Ebola. It is too many, by any count.

Medical marijuana looks like it holds promise, certainly in the treatment of side effects from chemotherapy. Some scientific studies also suggest that it may do even more, perhaps playing an exciting role in the cure. The potential is just beginning to unfold.

So what is the altruistic investor do? Doing good and doing well are not necessarily at odds. The possibilities range from the charitable events to political advocacy to biotech investing. Because they are already motivated, investors may be particularly well positioned to make a difference in this fight.


Marijuana Business Sponsorship

Many nonprofit organizations support efforts to search for a cure for breast cancer, provide comfort and assistance for those in the fight, and raise awareness through education. Among the top 4 pink-ribbon charities, ranked by the percentage of funds collected used to support these goals are:

  1. Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  2. Susan G. Komen Foundation
  3. Living Beyond Breast Cancer and
  4. National Breast Cancer Foundation.

One of the charms of this sort of support is that every person and every business can participate, but how is this business?

Carefully targeted philanthropy can be as much a part of building a brand and a community as advertising, especially if done in a visible and public way. The link between breast cancer support and a dispensary or edibles business is pretty straightforward, as patients search for ways to deal with the side effects of other treatments including nausea, insomnia and pain. This is the low-hanging fruit.


Legal Advocacy for MMJ

Marijuana exists in a medical netherworld where it is neither quite a home remedy nor nutritional supplement nor a drug approved by the Federal Drug Administration. In states that have legalized its use, a doctor’s authorization for a patient to obtain marijuana is often not even termed a prescription, but a “recommendation.” State laws that limit the conditions for which marijuana may be recommended often appear to have very little to do with medical science.

New York, for example, permits a limited number of physicians to recommend marijuana for cancer, but not for pain specifically and not for the side effects of treatment like nausea, vomiting and insomnia. It can only be vaporized, not smoked or consumed as an edible. Illinois law is also very restrictive.

These limitations may not lessen marijuana’s usefulness for breast cancer patients, but would it not be better to allow doctors to exercise professional discretion about treatment options? They have the training for this, after all.

Political advocacy is not often thought of as a form of investing, but efforts to reform medical marijuana laws to permit physicians to recommend marijuana when and as it may be effective in treating breast cancer may add greatly to treatment options. A rational data-based policy would benefit everyone, patients and dispensaries, alike.


FDA Approval

This is the Holy Grail for those who believe in cannabis’s potential as medicine. For one, Federal Drug Administration approval of a cannabis-based drug would provide powerful evidence that marijuana does not belong on either Schedule I or II of the Controlled Substances Act. De-scheduling cannabis would effectively legalize it at the national level. More to the point for doctors and breast cancer patients, however, an FDA approved cannabis treatment option might be part of the cure.

Several studies of THC and the collection of other cannabinoids found in marijuana suggest that it can be effective in shrinking tumors and slowing the growth of breast cancer in mice.

But marijuana research is extraordinarily difficult, requiring a Schedule I license from the Drug Enforcement Agency and purchases exclusively from National Institute on Drug Abuse, which as its name suggests, is not known for a dispassionate interest in the science of medical cannabis.

Medical research at a public institution may also be shut down suddenly for political reasons, as appears to have happened with Dr. Sue Sisley’s research into the potential for medical marijuana treatment for PTSD at the University of Arizona.

Furthermore, promising lab results are a long way from a marketable drug. Only after several years of lab testing may drug researchers apply to the FDA for permission to begin human testing. The three phases of human testing, involving more and more patients at each step, can take as long as seven years if promising results are seen at each phase. An application for final approval may run into the tens of thousands of pages, and the review process takes several more years.

The average out-of-pocket clinical cost for each new drug is $153.2 million. This is the place for a serious investor, or a serious consortium of investors, but it is also where the giant payoff is. Investing at this level, however, may subject investors to DEA scrutiny, even if the investment is in Canadian biotech companies. It is a risky bet, not only because of the funds involved, but because of the uncertainties of legal enforcement.

Some nonprofit groups also fund research. Dr. Sisley’s studies, for example, were financed in part by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which seeks donations, thus providing another avenue for the smaller investor.

Sponsorship, advocacy and financial investing are essential ways to ensure that medical marijuana is available to breast cancer patients. Cannabis is one of many tools to combat this terrible disease, and its full potential has yet to be explored.

Anne Wallace is a New York lawyer who writes extensively on legal and business issues. She also teaches law and business writing at the college and professional level. Anne graduated from Fordham Law School and Wellesley College.

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