Alibi V.25 No.51 • Dec 22-28, 2016 

Baked Goods

The Big Screw

The DEA says CBD is illegal

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Rob M

If you were wondering about whether or not the Drug Enforcement Administration is run by a heartless, shit-eating monster, your question has finally been answered. DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg announced just last Wednesday that there would be a teensy tiny clarification concerning the existing Schedule I Controlled Substance Act: Just to be clear, all cannabis extracts are considered illegal, including cannabidiol (CBD).

In the announcement, titled “Establishment of a New Drug Code for Marihuana Extract,” cannabis extracts—defined as “an extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin (whether crude or purified) obtained from the plant.”—were given a new identification number. “This code number will allow DEA and DEA-registered entities to track quantities of this material separately from quantities of marihuana. This, in turn, will aid in complying with relevant treaty provisions.” The DEA says that the new rules have been put into place to distinguish between cannabis and its extracts, bringing the laws within compliance of international drug treaties which already have separate classifications.

The DEA also says that it's impossible to separate CBD from trace amounts of other cannabinoids. However, as they clearly state, that hardly matters. The statement goes on to say: “If it were possible to produce from the cannabis plant an extract that contained only CBD and no other cannabinoids, such an extract would fall within the new drug code.” (Italics added). In other words, they don't really care about whether it has other cannabinoids or not.

The drug treaty they refer to is known as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which was adopted in 1961, and prohibits the production and supply of specific narcotics. What makes this a flimsy argument is that the Single Convention does allow for drugs that are under license for specific purposes—you know, like medical treatment.

If the clarification that CBD is illegal doesn't shock you, it's probably because you don't know that although it comes from the cannabis plant, it's non-psychoactive and hailed by health professionals as a miracle treatment for inflammation, multiple sclerosis, eating disorders, Crohn's disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy and numerous other illnesses that would fill this article up if I listed them all. These claims have been tested and peer-reviewed through hundreds of clinical studies.

You also probably didn't realize just how illegal CBD already was (I didn't). That's because producers of the oil have been proudly “informing” all of us that CBD oil that comes from industrial hemp plants (defined by the 2014 Federal Farm Bill as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC) is completely legal in all 50 states. In fact, the Hemp Industries Association responded to the action last Monday, citing the Farm Bill and pointing out that the legal status of CBD oil extracted from hemp plants is not changing.

Here's the problem: CBD has always been illegal. Despite the Farm Bill's clear delineation of the difference between the two forms of the plant, the Controlled Substance Act was never changed. That means, federally, it is illegal. The Farm Bill only allows for exceptions to the growing ban. Note that the clarification defines cannabis extract as coming from “any plant of the genus Cannabis.” And guess what? Industrial hemp is still a genus of cannabis.

But when the cannabis industry reacted last week, the DEA responded only to the misinformation being repeated: No, there was no re-scheduling of CBD. No, there were no new laws passed. This was just a way to better track medical research. In an email to The Cannabist, DEA spokesperson Russ Baer said:

“The gist of the issue is that DEA established a new drug code for marihuana extracts as a means to more accurately reflect the activities of scientific research and provide more consistent adherence to the requirements of the Single Convention. We have not changed any control status with this Federal Register Notice. Everything remains schedule I, so no other provisions of the law (registration, security requirements, research protocols, etc.) change. Companies will simple [sic] use a new code for extracts.”

That could feasibly be true, but it has some cannabis proponents nervous. Considering the Food and Drug Administration's announcement that they don't consider CBD to be a dietary supplement, this could very well be an implication that the DEA plans to start enforcing the federal laws that prohibit the transportation of controlled substances across state lines. If that's the case, you can say goodbye to what could have been a billion dollar industry when the supplement companies start dealing with DEA agents.

But whatever the real reason is behind the modification, it doesn't change the fact that the DEA is literally taking a drug away that has improved the lives of thousands of people, including children who suffer from seizures and have no other medical recourse. That spells “assholes” no matter how you rearrange the letters.

The good news: If you are a medical cannabis patient, you are protected by the Rohrabacher–Farr medical marijuana amendment, which prevents federal law enforcement from prosecuting legal patients who possess the chemical. At least until it comes up for renewal in April of next year.

That being said, it was public dissent and petitioning that turned the kratom ban around, and there's always the possibility that it can happen again with CBD. If you don't want to see this incredible drug taken out of the hands of patients who need it, you can sign a petition at whitehouse.gov/itgz8.