Stephen McCamman Speaks on Medical Marijuana

Stephen McCamman is a former political scientist-turned-cannabis-researcher. He left the ivory towers of academia and decided to get his hands dirty over ten years ago, starting up CBD Wellness and the Clinical Endocannabinoid System Consortium (CESC). Like so many others, Stephen wants to learn about marijuana’s medical applications as well as the social impact of legalization.

Cannabis and its relationship to the fabric of American life is complex, to say the least. Yes, it’s arguable that cannabis is less of a partisan issue nowadays with less of a split between the left and the right ends of the political spectrum. However, there are still massive cultural differences from town-to-town and state-to-state. We ask Stephen McCamman a few questions in order to try and make sense of it all …

What made you want to go into the medical cannabis industry?

I started out as a professor of political science. When I moved back to California in 2005 I started teaching about the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 in my classes. It’s a great constitutional question of who should be able to control the distribution of cannabis.

So, after teaching that for a couple of years as a constitutional issue, my wife contracted fibromyalgia. As I was researching it, I thought this was an opportunity to try and see if this medicine was all that it was cracked up to be. This was 2007 I went and got a recommendation and procured some cannabis.

When I saw how it really helped my wife get through her day as far as her pain and nausea are concerned, that was the moment I was sold on cannabis as a medicine. Ever since then, I’ve just been full-force into it, and it’s been a great adventure!

Was there a big jump from political science to the cannabis industry?

Yes, absolutely. On the one hand it was a great fit. The way I really got into the industry was in San Diego, which had a Wild West dispensary industry. The city was going to crack down on over 200 dispensaries by crafting a very restrictive ordinance. So the 200 dispensaries got together and formed a trade organization.

Through that I was able to leverage my political science background. These were a bunch of dispensary owners, young kids, a few professionals, but not one political scientist. So we launched a referendum and gathered over 50,000 signatures and forced the city to repeal their ordinance. As a political scientist I was able to leverage my knowledge of the political system and ended up on the board of CESC and that’s how I became very involved in the cannabis industry.

On the other hand though, kind of the cultural shift from being in the ivory tower and teaching my whole life, it was definitely an eye-opening experience. There is something to be said about the innocence of people in the academy, though!

So how do people in academia approach the topic of cannabis?

Most people in the academia are open-minded and liberal and probably smoked a little bit of cannabis in college. So from a personal standpoint, there’s a lot of support. But institutionally, I even felt a little bit “out on the edge” teaching about it in my class, but I didn’t care – it went all the way to the Supreme Court and it’s a valid issue. I never got any pushback, but long story short: I think the people in the academy are pretty open to it personally, but institutionally – whether it’s through research or having conference – there’s still a lot of resistance.

I don’t know if you know about Scripps and Pitzer Colleges in Claremont, California, but we tried to offer to give a free talk at Scripps. Believe it or not – and this is in 2011 – they said that this was “too controversial a topic” to have a talk about at a college. But I think it’s changing slowly.

Has cannabis become less of a bipartisan issue?

I think money is non-partisan, and so I think that, to the degree that people at the city council level, are seeing the potential for revenue … ideological blinders fall away at that level. At the federal level, the biggest resistance we’re getting is from the cultural conservatives. Those who are parts of organizations like the Christian Coalition  – who tend to be more on the right – are against weed. So it is becoming less bipartisan, but I think it’s being driven by the possibility of money, taxation and things like that.

The interesting thing as a political scientist is the big question, “What really drives the political system?” There’s two main theories: is it a mass, elite model where the people have something and then it “trickles up” where the elites make the decision to legalize; or is it “interest group politics” – that is to say, organized interests, be they unions, corporations or what have you – who approach politicians and contribute to campaigns.

In my ten years in the cannabis industry, I have become convinced that the political system works on a “special interest group” model. So, your organization in the industry is very important. Over the ten years, I just kept saying to myself, “Well, as soon as the industry gets more organized and is able to contribute to campaigns and bring voters to the polls is when the system will slowly start to change.” That is exactly what we’re seeing – this interest group politics.

As for the federal level, well, you see what the environment looks like for cannabis users.

I find that quite interesting. I talked to Bo Money recently, and we talked about the US government making CBD a Schedule I drug, despite them owning the patent for it …

… Yeah, they have a use patent on it from 2001 or 2002. The hypocrisy of it is pretty hard to stomach sometimes. But I think the sad thing is that, at the national level as far as interest group politics goes, what you have is the American Medical Association, you have pharmaceutical associations and other multi-billion dollar companies who essentially have politicians by their necktie to put it nicely.

So, how this is going to unfold at the federal level … I don’t think the cannabis industry is a big enough player in terms of having the finances at the federal level to actually make a go of it, and that’s why I think CBD is a Schedule I substance. We’ll see, but it’s going to be a long, hard slog. Who pays the piper calls the tune, so there are a lot of special interest that runs counter to the cannabis industry for sure.

I find it interesting comparing this “special interest group” model to the cannabis industry, who like to run against this type of model …

Yeah, absolutely, and that can run back into that “mass-elite” model. The people in cannabis tend to be communitarian, egalitarian and generally disdainful of the larger political system. This has actually hindered the transition from an activist movement to an industry. Not a lot of people either want to make the leap or can make the leap.

I was at the Las Vegas Convention this year for my third year in a row, and all of a sudden people with nicer watches and shoes started showing up. So the Wall Street money is starting to trickle in, and it’s going to change the whole nature of what we’re trying to do here. As a social scientist, that’s been one of the most interesting things – living this transformation, but also observing this transformation. We’ll see how the culture of a movement is co-opted into an industry.

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