Trump Pick For FDA Could Help Marijuana Industry | But At What Cost?

According to Bloomberg News and TheHill, President Donald Trump is strongly considering Jim O’Neill, an outspoken marijuana industry supporter and libertarian, to be the next head of the FDA. Jim O’Neill has been a staunch critic of the FDA for years and if appointed to lead the agency, he is likely to usher in dramatic changes that could shake the agency to its core. And maybe, just maybe, that’s not such a bad thing.

Jim O’Neill is reportedly a close business associate of key Trump transition team member Peter Thiel – a tech financier worth more than $2 Billion. Theil was named #246 on the Forbes 400 List of Richest People in America in 2016. Theil spokesman Jeremiah Hall was quoted recently in an email reported by Bloomberg Politics, “Jim O’Neill has extensive experience in government and in Silicon Valley. He is a strong candidate for any of several key positions.”

Mr. O’Neill is currently the Managing Director of Mithril Capital Management LLC,

a global investment firm cofounded by Peter Thiel. Previous to Mithril Capital, Mr. O’Neill spent just under six years working in various roles for the Department of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush Administration, from 2002 – 2008. O’Neill first served as the Director of the Speech and Editorial Division, then as Associate Deputy Secretary and ultimately as the Principal Associate Deputy Secretary contributing to policy and regulatory matters affecting the FDA.

In addition to working for the Dept. of HHS, O’Neill also served on the Board of Directors (and was a founding member) for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. CCPR is a nonpartisan organization which opposes prohibition and supports reasonable marijuana regulation. O’Neill is likely to bring big changes to the FDA, easing research and perhaps access to cannabis based pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.

If O’Neill is picked to run the agency, he is likely to lead a sorely needed reform of the FDA and how drugs are researched, regulated and approved.

Jim O’Neill is a proponent of the “progressive approval” for drugs, a controversial view that reduces (some say eliminates) the role of the FDA in determining a drugs efficacy and instead narrows the role of the FDA to a drugs safety.

An FDA with a singular focus on safety could be a boon for the marijuana industry.

“We should reform FDA so there is approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety – and let people start using them, at their own risk, but not much risk for safety,” O’Neill reportedly said in a 2014 speech.

The current drug approval system is flawed and corrupt. The FDAs repeated false statement regarding marijuana’s efficacy are evidence enough that the needs an overhaul. Maybe a big disruption from an outsider like Jim O’Neill is just what the doctor ordered.

I am cautiously optimistic.

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