Like most businesses in the medical marijuana industry, Cannabis Science is out to change the face of medicine. Unlike your standard center, however, this company is doing it in the lab.
No one said it would be easy. "Why does law enforcement and why do our politicians and policy makers, why do they feel it's OK to put people on addictive narcotics rather than a health-giving herb that's actually nonaddictive and it's an anti-aging drug?" says an exasperated Dr. Robert Melamede.
"Why would anybody in their right mind outlaw an anti-aging drug with anti-cancer properties, and that's found in mother's milk? That's the kind of stuff we've been dealing with for decades."
Melamede, a microbiology professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, feels science is the answer, so he helped create Cannabis Science, a biotech company that develops pharmaceutical cannabis products. The enterprise grew out of the shell of a previous company a year and a half ago, when Melamede took over as president and CEO.
Also at the helm is Chris Stubbs, 27, Cannabis Science's lab director, whose job entails recruiting people for the company's current 20-member team, and helping run the labs. Like all other employees, Stubbs also researches partnerships, including last month's Montana Pain Management acquisition. He says Cannabis Science receives numerous inquiry requests for partnerships. "It's almost too hard to handle right now."
It's a revolutionary — and publicly traded — company that Colorado Springs is about to lose.
Earlier this year, Melamede wrote several e-mails to City Council introducing himself, and his company, and says he never heard back. He did eventually call Councilor Sean Paige, and says the two had a pleasant conversation, but Council's overall hesitation to even talk was enough to convince Melamede and Co. that the Springs was not the most stable place for this $7 million to $10 million enterprise.
"It just made more sense to go where [city MMJ] regulations seem to be a bit more solidly in place and established," Melamede says, though he acknowledges that the late-May ordinance passed by Council is a step in the right direction.
"We don't want to be down here in limbo," adds Stubbs. "I don't want to look at temporary measures and temporary application forms and temporary anything. This is a permanent operation that needs to be in a permanent home.
"Not being able to open a direct dialogue with City Council or explain the goals that we have as a company, does not lend itself well to us putting our chips into the Colorado Springs business basket."
The benefits in Denver, where the company already has a center, include stable municipal laws, as well as a less suspicious district attorney, according to Stubbs and Melamede.
They aren't wasting time. The scientists estimate the core labs, offices and manufacturing facilities in Denver will be complete by the end of summer.
Once settled in the Denver facility, Stubbs says Cannabis Science will be able to further its research for oral and topical cannabis drugs, with the goal of achieving U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in MMJ-friendly states. (It's already hired a regulatory group to guide it through the application for phase one FDA clinical trial work.) And it will still offer buds for smoking, edibles and beverages.
Down the road, Stubbs says, the company hopes to have an "affiliate partnership" back in the Springs, as well as in other cities on the Front Range and the Western Slope.
Until then, our city will still benefit from Cannabis Science's research, because much of its mission involves bringing medical-grade standards and quality to the MMJ industry.
Stubbs says the industry needs more education: Even the most well-intentioned center owners and growers are selling worse than low-grade products. (Stubbs says the company will have a cannabis testing operation available to growers and MMJ centers.)
"I cannot tell you how many dispensaries I've been in, in the state of Colorado, that have at least one jar of cannabis that has some kind of mold on it," he says.
"There's a significant need — if we're going to call this medicine — to ensure that it's not going to have any adverse effects. Because the safety level of cannabis, generally, is very high, but people with severe autoimmune deficiencies ... absolutely cannot have any infectious agents entering their body like that. Some people have trouble eating certain kinds of food, much less inhaling a bunch of mold."
On a larger scale, Stubbs says he's in the process of establishing MMJ manufacturing practices, quality controls and other standard operating procedures. He's borrowing regulations from the FDA for pharmaceutical companies, nutraceutical companies and other sectors. "My job is to just tighten everybody up," he says.
Stubbs hopes to share these procedures with an ever-growing group of physicians who are curious about the cannabis their patients are raving about. Cannabis Science wants to facilitate MMJ exploration and acceptance.
"Even if it is decriminalized and fully legalized — let's say we can all carry around as much as we want — there's still going to be a need for Cannabis Science and FDA products," Stubbs says. "You don't see people growing their own Tylenol."