Senators discussed the importance of developing federal cannabidiol (CBD) medicine in a hearing Wednesday, but also drew a sharp distinction between their support for CBD products and their disdain for many other forms of marijuana.
The Caucus on International Narcotics Control, chaired by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), met on Wednesday to examine the barriers to federal research and development of CBD treatments for seizure disorders and highlighted ways to reconcile outdated federal laws with state medical marijuana and CBD laws.
“With additional research, we can better understand if the apparent immediate benefits of CBD outweigh any potential long term harms,” said Sen. Feinstein, who was previously known for being a fierce opponent to marijuana legalization, in her opening statement at the hearing.
“Unfortunately, the lack of research and burdensome regulations have forced parents to rely on each other and even social media sites like Facebook instead of doctors to determine whether to use CBD to treat their children. This is an untenable situation and not how medicine should work.”
In an effort to remove barriers to CBD research, Feinstein and Grassley twice wrote to the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services last October and in May and asked them to classify CBD separately from the whole marijuana plant. The departments granted their request on Tuesday, Grassley announced in the hearing, a step he called “a significant breakthrough” toward lightening the hoops researchers must jump through to conduct CBD research.
The federal government earlier this week also loosened regulatory rules on medical marijuana research by removing the Public Health Review process that only marijuana researchers had to undergo. This move allowed marijuana to be studied under the same amount of restrictions as other Schedule I drugs, but the senators at the hearing all endorsed classifying CBD at a lower level than the whole marijuana plant, as it has no psychoactive properties to get a user high.
“The DEA will work with Health and Human Services to evaluate CBD,” promised Joseph Rannazzisi, the deputy assistant administrator from the Office of Diversion Control in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), during the hearing. He noted that the DEA has a policy to expedite applications for CBD research and that they have approved 41 researchers this year — up from 16 less than a year ago — to study CBD.
Feinstein said in the hearing that the federal government is already funding 12 studies on CBD’s medical benefits, but added that Congress “has got to do more” to make sure that parents of children with seizure disorders can receive FDA-approved medicine in a timely fashion, with accurate labeling and dosage information.
Currently, even the people who live in the 23 states with legal medical marijuana or the 15 states with legal CBD medicine could still face federal prosecution under federal laws the classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Additionally, parents trying to buy CBD for their children with seizure disorders could lose custody of their child and doctors cannot prescribe the medicine, regardless of state law.
While vehemently endorsing the evidence for creating federally regulated and widely available CBD medication, many senators and witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing spoke against the legalization of other forms of medical marijuana.
“I continue to oppose marijuana and efforts to legalize its use. I remain unconvinced by claims that it is safe,” said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has co-sponsored a bill to get CBD exempted from the federal definition of marijuana. “That CBD is derived from the marijuana plant does not mean we should have nothing to do with it.”
Grassley mirrored Hatch’s statements, drawing parallels between the accepted use of morphine rather than it’s raw plant form in heroin with what he said should be the accepted use of CBD rather than raw marijuana flowers.
Feinstein agreed, saying: “I have not been a supporter of recreational marijuana use, but we do have a responsibility to see if CBD could have a positive, long term medical benefit.”
This approval of CBD coupled with a continued rejection of other forms of medical marijuana spells an interesting shift in the conversation around legalization. Dan Riffle, the director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, tweeted that the hearing “might as well be titled: ‘CBD yes, marijuana no.’”
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