2014 Farm Bill Paves the Way for a Panacea Cannabinoid

Enrico Purita
J.D. Candidate 2016, UCI Law

Cannabidiol (“CBD”) is the lesser known, non-psychoactive chemical that can be extracted alongside Tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) from the Cannabis Sativa L plant. Recent cannabis research has uncovered the anti-spasmodic, anti-epileptic, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic properties of this cannabinoid. CBD is used amongst epileptics and cancer patients nationwide. A provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp from the Cannabis Sativa L plant with a THC content of “not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis” is silent on the increasingly popular CBD. As a result, cannabis growers across the country are extracting CBD oil from industrial hemp for medical marijuana patients across the country.

For years, cannabis growers have genetically engineered their plants to contain higher levels of THC to enhance the psychoactive properties of most widely available recreational cannabis strains. Until recently, the average CBD concentration in most popular recreational cannabis strains was around .1 to.5 percent. In contrast, average levels of THC reach up to thirty percent in plants and up to eighty percent when extracted as an oil. Growers are now producing oil that contains high CBD concentrations with much lower concentrations of THC. These CBD concentrates can be orally ingested or vaporized without the potentially deleterious effects from smoking.

Section 7606 of the Farm Bill allows for state agriculture departments and “institutions of higher education” to issue licenses to grow industrial hemp under certain circumstances if: (1) the entities are part of an agricultural pilot program sanctioned by the state of cultivation or (2) the laws of the state allow for the growth and research of industrial hemp. Both California and New York recently passed legislation to allow for the cultivation of industrial hemp.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”), has not provided a clear interpretation of whether the industrial hemp provision can be read to sanction the extraction of CBD. Speaking to the New York Times, agency spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said, “Any chemical that comes from the plant is still a controlled substance. When we get into hemp, it gets a little squishy, but it still is illegal.” It is yet to be determined how Section 7606 can be squared with the Controlled Substances Act. The act defines “marihuana” as “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.” However, because Congress has acted to prevent the Justice Department from using congressional funding to prosecute state medical marijuana operations, production of CBD oil will likely continue without sizable opposition from the Federal Government.

For medical marijuana patients, CBD is a pathway to the widespread acceptance of the medicinal properties of the cannabis sativa plant. Findings by scientists at California Pacific Medical Center indicate that CBD has the ability to “turn off” the gene responsible for metastasis of certain types of cancer cells. Additionally, CBD has been shown to reduce pain and nausea in cancer patients while counteracting the “negative” effects of THC including paranoia and short-term memory loss. Research has revealed that CBD acts as anti-inflammatory agent that can ease regular aches and pains. Consequently, many medical marijuana dispensaries now offer strains with a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD for patients who wish to avoid conventional pain medicine but still wish to benefit from the sleep-enhancing, appetite-stimulating properties of THC.

The pharmaceutical industry and the cotton industry, two entities that have historically lobbied to keep medical marijuana listed as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, will likely fight the omission of language regarding CBD in future industrial hemp provisions. In addition to CBD oil extraction, industrial hemp can both be used as a protein-rich nutrient and a sustainable fabric (among other potential uses).

The health benefits of CBD and its potential for creating safer, healthier marijuana strains must be recognized by the federal government in the inevitable future of cannabis regulation. Additionally, the availability of cannabis concentrates will allow for cannabis cultivation that is environmentally sustainable due to the higher chemical concentration that can be generated from the same amount of plant matter. Ultimately, politicians have a responsibility to their constituency to educate themselves on smarter cannabis regulation. Along with easing and/or completely eradicating the criminal penalties for recreational marijuana use, legislation that sanctions sustainable and safe CBD production for research and medical use would be a logical first step in this nascent area of policy reform.