Two large political donations—to Republican and Democratic groups that help elect state attorneys general nationwide—have further expanded the political influence of GW Pharmaceuticals and its American subsidiary as the UK-based company increases the reach of its marquee product, Epidiolex, the US’s first federally-approved medicine derived from cannabis plants.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association received $50,000 in February and the Republican Attorneys General Association received a little more than $50,000 last year from Greenwich Biosciences, the US subsidiary of UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, according to recent Internal Revenue Service filings. (The first quarter donations from this year for the Republican Attorneys General Association were not yet available.)
These D.C.-based Associations work on behalf of their respective party’s state attorneys general, who often have considerable oversight over both state law enforcement and legislative action as it relates to both pharmaceuticals and drug enforcement. Combined, the two groups have doled out $77.3 million for attorneys general campaigns in various states across the country since 2010, according to FollowtheMoney.org, which tracks state political donations.
The contributions are just the latest expenditures for Greenwich Biosciences, which has had a major lobbying presence both in Congress and in states since the Food and Drug Administration in 2018 approved Epidiolex. As Cannabis Wire previously reported, Greenwich has registered to lobby in all fifty states and spent nearly $2 million to lobby Congress last year.
To put Greenwich’s donations to AGs in perspective, Greenwich outspent many of the law firms, corporations, and individuals that gave to the Democratic and Republican Attorneys General Associations during those respective time periods. For example, Greenwich’s donation to the Democratic group in the last quarter was double PepsiCo and Mastercard’s respective contributions; the company also individually outspent both Pfizer Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase and Co.’s PAC with its donations to the Republican group last year, according to the filings.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision this year to deschedule Epidiolex opens up opportunities for the product. As the company explained in an April press release, the DEA’s descheduling of Epidiolex makes it no longer subject to state-based drug monitoring programs and doctors are free to offer prescriptions for up to a year.
However, despite the federal government’s move, states still have to take action to ensure Epidiolex is removed from state lists of controlled substances. The process varies from state to state and the company said in the release that it would “begin the process of implementing” those changes immediately.
Stephen Schultz, the VP of investor relations for Greenwich Biosciences told Cannabis Wire in an email that the work of assuring that the product is in compliance with state laws and regulations is ongoing. He did not address the specific donations to the two attorneys general associations or list the specific states where Epidiolex may face hurdles.
“We have successfully descheduled Epidiolex in several states and will continue state-level descheduling efforts with legislatures, regulators and Attorneys General until we complete the work in all fifty states, Puerto Rico and D.C., to afford Epidiolex patients and prescribers the benefits of descheduling,” Schultz said.
In its March earnings call with analysts, GW’s U.S. Chief Commercial Officer Darren Cline shed light on company priorities, which include, for example, ensuring physicians can prescribe Epidiolex for a longer period of time, and allowing, in some states, nurse practitioners or physician assistants to prescribe it, according to a transcript of the call.
Schultz had previously told Cannabis Wire that the company’s longer term plans include a product called Sativex, which has not yet been approved by the FDA. “We are similarly seeking to ensure that our investigational product, Sativex, will be rapidly available to patients in the states if and when it is approved by FDA and rescheduled by DEA,” he said. Unlike Epidiolex, which contains only CBD, Sativex contains both CBD and THC, cannabis’ most well-known psychoactive compound. Sativex has been approved in several countries to treat patients with multiple sclerosis.
Meanwhile, any administrative hiccups at the state level haven’t appeared to affect GW’s overall bottom line—the company beat its revenue projections last quarter, overwhelmingly due to Epidiolex sales.