With cannabis reform approval soaring in the state, Wisconsin saw an historic number of cannabis related bills introduced during the 2013-2014 legislative session including the Jacki Rickert Medical Cannabis Act (JRMCA) a whole-plant medical cannabis bill, a recreational use legalization bill and a hemp cultivation bill.
But, surprisingly, it was a bill introduced in early February that calls for the legalization of a CBD oil extract that has garnered not only a hearing (while the other bills have stalled) but that has also received the most attention. Wisconsin activists, myself included, believe special interests and ethically questionable practices have gone into the drafting and promotion of this bill, which only legalizes a single strain for a single condition, epilepsy.
An increase in media surrounding pediatric access to medical cannabis came to a head in mid January, forcing Leah Vukmir (R), Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee to publicly answer as to why she refused to schedule a hearing on the JRMCA.
AB 726, allows CBD extract oil in a non-psychoactive form to be dispensed for people suffering from a seizure disorder. The bill quickly gained bipartisan support and was given fast-track treatment, a hearing by the Assembly Children and Families Committee was scheduled less than 10 days later before. The committee is chaired by the bill’s co-sponsor and ALEC Republican, Rep. Scott Krug.
The bill does not limit the age of the seizure sufferer that can be prescribed the CBD medicines, but it does attempt to redefine cannabidiol as “CBD extract oil” without psychoactive effects.
Rep. Kahl, in response to the question of bill expansion posed by Rep. Billings (D) and Scraww (R), promised a packed room full of special needs children, families, supporters, news crews and medical cannabis patients he would facilitate a discussion to expand the conditions for which CBD oil extract could be legalized. Kahl reiterated that any expansion would also require endorsement of the medical community.
Kahl also stated that Wisconsin’s bill was drafted by looking at CBD-only bills other states have introduced, and in the interest of specifically legalizing Charlotte’s Web CBD oil, produced by Realm of Caring in Colorado.
Kahl testified that after speaking with the Wisconsin Medical Society, the only way the bill would be supported by the medical community was if it was amended to order that the CBD oil extract must be dispensed by approved physicians or pharmacies.
The bill was amended on Feb. 24 after the Wisconsin Medical Society agreed to sponsor the program. Prescribing physicians and pharmacies would be assisted by the Wisconsin Controlled Substance Board in applying for and obtaining investigational drug permits for the importation and dispensing of the CBD oil.
According to records obtained through an open records request, if the bill is passed, the CBD oil extract would be imported from Realm of Caring’s Colorado facility, tested at state labs and ultimately dispensed to seizure patients by University of Wisconsin Hospitals and pharmacies through research study programs.
In between the hours of testimony given by the parents of children suffering the devastating effects of seizure disorders, Paige, mother of Charlotte’s Web namesake, Charlotte Figi, also testified. Figi testified that Realm of Caring was in the process of performing clinical trials using CBD extracted from the Charlotte’s Web plant including the use of mouse models in Utah, genetic sequencing on responder group and non-responder groups. Figi testified to the advantages of Realm of Caring’s proposed research, doctor involvement and strategy to gain access by making Charlotte’s Web shippable as the “next seizure treatment.”
Figi was followed in testimony by Jesse Stanley, hemp grower and Realm of Caring Board member who reiterated the clinical trials and safety aspects of Charlotte’s Web by emphasizing that a former, 15-year veteran Pfizer scientist was on-site at the Realm of Caring facilities to monitor production and trials.
The tone of the hearing quickly changed when it came to the testimony of medical cannabis patients seeking bill expansion to cover other conditions just hours after Kahl promised a discussion on those very issues.
No such discussion was actually tolerated, however, as cannabis advocates including myself were accused of testifying to expand the bill to treat other conditions as a veiled attempt at marijuana legalization, which was made “obvious” by the fact we used the term “cannabis” in our testimony.
Rep. Spiros, who opened the hearing by stating that he only considered legalizing CBD oil after his wife watched the CNN special and lectured him on its virtues, declared that CBD oil was not cannabis and went so far as to say that if the bill were expanded to include other conditions, he would not vote for it.
However, in a surprise reversal just two weeks later during the bill’s passage out of the Committee, Rep. Spiros claimed he would be open to discussion of bill expansion on the assembly floor if it should come up for debate. The bill’s sponsors Kahl and Krug were absent for the bill’s discussion and vote.
With only a few weeks left in the legislative session, the CBD-only bill now sits before the Assembly Rules Committee awaiting another round of action while all other cannabis legislation remains untouched without any scheduled hearings.
In the coming months, Wisconsin’s Open Records Act will deem quite useful as investigations into the history and lobby behind AB 726 are launched by Wisconsin activists.