CBD-Only Laws: The New Prohibitionist Strategy to Distract Voters and Delay Cannabis Reform

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CBD-Only Wave Begins

Starting in late 2013 and continuing through the 2014 elections, in what appeared to be a sign of change on the horizon, the US saw a surprising new breed of cannabis bills passed and signed into law by many Republican Governors. The majority of these new bills were introduced by Conservative politicians in traditionally Conservative states and allow the possession and/or study of CBD extract oil devoid of therapeutic levels of THC .  To date, very few patients have been helped in any of the states where these laws have passed, because none have a way to legally gain access to CBD oil, which like THC, is a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

These restrictive laws known as “CBD-only laws” are being passed at an astonishing rate in response to pleas and lobbying efforts from parents of children stricken with seizure disorders after stories of pediatric cannabis therapy were highlighted on CNN’s documentary Weeds, hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Even though Dr. Gupta has been quoted as saying he doesn’t approve of CBD-only laws , the advocacy group “Realm of Caring” featured in the documentary has been credited for much of the parent lobbying efforts behind the limited laws that have been enacted in Florida, Alabama, Iowa, Tennessee, Utah, Kentucky, North Carolina, Wisconsin and South Carolina.

CBD Legislation in Conservative States: Introduced and Supported by the GOP 

In early 2014, with cannabis advocacy efforts gearing up to amend the state’s constitution in order to allow medical cannabis reform via ballot initiative, Republican lawmakers in Florida introduced legislation to legalize only low THC, high CBD strains for certain patients under certain conditions, primarily epilepsy. Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz, sponsor of Florida’s CBD-only law (known colloquially as “Charlotte’s Web Law” after the strain created by Colorado-based CBD manufacturers the Stanley Brothers and lobbied for by Realm of Caring), was accused by Florida Democrats and advocacy group United for Care of introducing the restrictive measures in order to steer voters away from the polls during the 2014 elections and take support away from the upcoming statewide ballot initiative.  Upon passage of the bill, GOP Gov. Rick Scott extended his support of the bill and  happily signed it into law.   Sadly implementation of the law has been mired by lawsuits, and not a single patient has gained access almost a year later.  Opposition to the proposed Amendment 2 was spearheaded by politically conservative groups and funded by billionaire casino magnate and GOP supporter Sheldon Adelson. Amendment 2 indeed was defeated, failing to pass despite getting 57% approval at the ballot box.

Coincidentally, like Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, both Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker are also said to be wooing Conservative donor Adelson in the interests of funding an upcoming 2016 GOP Presidential bid as well. Not so coincidentally both Deal and Walker are also supporters of CBD-only laws.

By January 2014, a CBD bill allowing the possession of CBD oil “without psychoactive effects” for the treatment of epilepsy was introduced in Wisconsin by Democratic Rep. Robb Kahl, an accused DINO (Democrat in Name Only) who admitted to voting for Republican Scott Walker for Governor in 2012. Wisconsin’s bill was also heavily lobbied for by Realm of Caring with the help of Sally Schaeffer – the mother of a special needs child who once applauded Republican Health Services Committee Chairwoman Leah Vukmir’s work on behalf of special needs children. The bill only legalized the possession and dispensing of CBD oil with FDA approval or with the written recommendation of a doctor. Despite testimony from cannabis advocates to expand the bill or add it to another comprehensive medical cannabis bill already introduced, it remained restrictive and passed both state houses with overwhelming support. After its passage, Mrs. Schaeffer and her daughter sat for photos with the embattled and up-for-re-election GOP Gov. Scott Walker as he signed the bill into law. Unfortunately, despite the Governor’s blessing, the bill would later be posthumously re-named “Lydia law” after failing to create access to cannabis for the young child who tragically passed away less than a month later on Mother’s Day.

On May 1st 2014, in Pennsylvania, a restrictive CBD proposal came from now former Gov. Tom Corbett as a solution to a showdown between his office and medical marijuana patients when he threatened to veto any medical marijuana bill that came to his desk. Medical cannabis advocates rejected the CBD proposal and went on to strongly support both of Corbett’s Democratic challengers for Governor John Hanger and Tom Wolf.  Wolk later won the election with 55% of the vote and named Hanger to his cabinet. Wolf has assured advocates early this legislative session that he is willing to sign comprehensive medical cannabis reform as soon as it hits his desk.

Most recently, the CBD-only oil slick has stained cannabis reform efforts in Georgia where once again CBD-only measures were proposed by an ethically-challenged, Republican Governor. This time by Gov. Nathan Deal in response to political pressure from Rep. Allen Peake  and supporters regarding the plight of cannabis refugee families living in other states in order to seek legal cannabis therapy. Shortly before the 2015 legislative session was to begin in Georgia and just days after the first FDA-approved, the GW clinical trial of Epilodex started in partnership with Georgia Regents University. Deal proposed allowing nothing more than legal immunity for patients with certain conditions who manage to legally obtain low THC oils from outside the state and traffic it back into Georgia. What Deal proposes and Peake has agreed to essentially turns patients and families into interstate narcotic-trafficking felons if they want to possess cannabis oil “legally” in Georgia without being subjects in GW’s study.

Deal’s proposal also does not allow for cannabis cultivation in the state or for the possession of cannabis oil with more than 5% THC for adults or 3% THC for children. Deal’s terms for possession of the oil  in Georgia would require that the oil be obtained legally, impossible even in “legal” states from a pediatric patient stand point as doctors will not recommend cannabis therapy for a child to take across state lines. As parent advocate Jill Osborn explains, “there’s not a doctor that’s going to support turning a parent into a criminal for a treatment they recommend. Bad laws are worse than no laws at all because now legislators will point to their unworkable law and say ‘But here, look! We already helped you.’” Three Georgian children, unable to travel or relocate, have already died this year alone while waiting for access to cannabis medicine and many more Georgians, some living as medical refugees in Colorado, are suffering until meaningful legislation passes.

GOP Priorities

In Iowa, where the only mention of medical cannabis reform within the Republican party caucus platform is under the heading of “Commerce” listing both CBD oil and hemp legislation, Republican Governor Terry Branstad happily signed into law a measure that allowed the possession of CBD oil but not the cultivation of the actual cannabis needed to create it. Lack of allowance for legal cultivation led to the arrest of Iowa man Benton Mackenzie , who was jailed and prosecuted for using cannabis oil to treat his cancer and was subsequently cut off from the treatment that was saving his life. He, his elderly parents, his wife and his son were all arrested and charged with crimes related to growing cannabis for the creation of cannabis oil. Mackenzie died at home after the stress of a trial and resulting conviction by the state of Iowa. In a travesty of justice, Benton Mackenzie was forbidden by the judge from telling the jury that the cannabis he was growing was to make cannabis oil to treat his cancer or to reference the recently passed CBD law as it did not apply to his situation. His family now fights for cannabis reform in his memory.

The toll of the Republican strategy is also evident in Tennessee, where comprehensive medical cannabis reform was passed over in favor of CBD-only measures. Another child, 3 year old Chloe Lucille Grauer-Lea from Memphis, medically fragile and thus unable to relocate to a “legal” medical marijuana state, died of complications from seizures while waiting for access to cannabis medicine. This despite the passage and enactment of CBD-only legislation more than a year ago.

Political Environment Restoration in the Aftermath: HOPE is not lost

What appeared at first to be movement within the GOP to buck the usual tone-deaf and compassionless “Just Say NO” policy of drug reform has actually turned out to be nothing more than another delay tactic of Prohibitionists and a new strategy for Republicans to keep medical cannabis out of the hands of the people who need it the most and to appear compassionate while appeasing voters. The resulting delay in reform efforts are lasting just long enough to allow GW and other Big Pharma interests to stake their claims, stuff the pockets of politicians and start clinical trials before the people’s voice, access and rights to cannabis medicine are restored.

Educated, politically powerful and bipartisan cannabis reform advocates in Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida have re-grouped and are setting new standards- turning back CBD waves in their states by re-directing them toward more effective and comprehensive legislative efforts that won’t turn parents into the criminals the GOP tried to make them out to be.  Advocates are working directly with potential GOP-challengers and others who are less invested in Big Pharma and more interested in running on the platform of compassion and common sense.

Despite knowing that restrictive CBD laws have thus far been proven ineffective in granting relief to suffering Americans, Conservative politicians continue to propose these measures with the support of uneducated advocates and other lawmakers. The Republican-sponsored Federal “Charlotte’s Web Hemp Act” lobbied for by Realm of Caring and the Epilepsy Foundation also does nothing to grant immediate access for most patients, and if the same patterns are allowed to repeat, will actually cause major setbacks in medical cannabis reform if enacted. The results of CBD-only legislation have been devastating to many cannabis patients and will continue to be until meaningful and comprehensive cannabis legislation is enacted in every state- Conservative, Moderate and Liberal.

 For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about CBD-only laws, click here.


Photo Credit: Nugbuckets