Guest Opinions

Office of Drug Policy: CBD policy must protect health and safety of all Idahoans

Oil on sale at Global CBD in Sanpoint.
Oil on sale at Global CBD in Sanpoint.

I was disappointed to read the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board’s opinion on legalizing cannabidiol (CBD) oil in Idaho. While I respect that the Editorial Board’s position differs from mine, I believe it is important to clarify the facts about the legality of CBD and hemp.

CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance as determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The patchwork of enforcement regarding CBD in Idaho is directly related to the definition of marijuana, which has been exploited by those wishing to profit. In January 2018, an Idaho Attorney General opinion clarified that “even if a CBD product originates from ‘mature stalks of the plant,’ if it contains ‘the resin extracted’ from the mature stalks, it is considered ‘marijuana,’ making it illegal under Idaho law . . .” It is unlikely that mature stalks could produce enough CBD for commercial sale. An email written to the Idaho Office of Drug Policy in January 2018 from Dr. Mahmoud El Sohly at the University of Mississippi states, “It would take 200 kilos of dried young stems and much more of more mature stems to produce 1 kilo of extract that is 10% CBD.”

It is against the law to grow hemp in Idaho. The 2014 federal Farm Bill, Section 7606, allows for legal growing and cultivation of industrial hemp, not medicinal hemp, for research purposes in states where growth and cultivation is legal under state law. Only institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture can develop agricultural pilot programs. According to the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp, “Section 7606 did not remove industrial hemp from the controlled substances list. Therefore, Federal law continues to restrict hemp-related activities, to the extent that those activities have not been legalized under section 7606.” The Farm Bill does not permit “general commercial activity,” selling industrial hemp products in states where it is illegal, or transporting industrial hemp plants and seeds across state lines.

Because CBD is non-psychoactive, the main opposition to legalizing artisanal CBD is about the scientific process of approving medicine. In the early 1900s, a flood of mostly bogus “patent medicines” brought about establishment of the FDA to develop a process for evaluating the safety and efficacy of medications and to protect the public from false claims of medical benefit. The FDA has sent several warning letters to CBD companies for claiming unproven medical benefits. A recent study found that only 31 percent of products labeled as CBD found on the internet contain the amount of CBD advertised.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter issued an executive order in 2015 for Idaho’s Expanded Access Program that allowed patients with intractable epilepsy to access Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil. This medication is undergoing FDA review, with a deadline of June 27 to determine approval. Epidiolex’s approval will allow a pure CBD oil to be obtained legally.

While I sympathize with individuals looking for relief when regular treatments have not been effective, policy efforts must take care to protect the health and safety of all Idahoans.

Nicole Fitzgerald is administrator of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy.