AUSTIN, Texas — An administrative change by the Drug Enforcement Administration has left users of CBD oil, a popular tincture derived from agricultural hemp, fearful that they could lose access to this vital health remedy.
CBD oil is currently considered legal in all 50 states, and agricultural hemp, a non-psychoactive variety of the cannabis plant from which CBD oil is extracted, is legally grown in many states. While scientific research into its benefits is just beginning, preliminary results show that CBD oil can benefit conditions ranging from epilepsy to chronic pain.
But on Dec. 14, the DEA added a notice to the Federal Register that quietly informed the public that it had established “a new drug code for marihuana extract.” The DEA’s argument is that the agency is entitled to regulate CBD oil because all extracts contain trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis which remains illegal at the federal level.
Establishing this new drug code is, effectively, the first step toward classifying CBD oil alongside cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. This act classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, alongside drugs like heroin which are considered to have no practical medical benefit.
However, legal experts and advocates for hemp doubt that the DEA has the mandate to easily ban CBD oil.
“They’re positioning themselves to potentially overstep their boundaries,” said John Ryan, founder and director of Ananda Hemp, in an interview with MintPress News.
A subsidiary of the Australian hemp company EcoFibre Industries, Ananda Hemp produces CBD oil from the hundreds of acres of hemp the company grows in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Ryan stressed that CBD oil is not going to “vanish overnight.” He continued:
“People need to understand that there are federal laws that the DEA cannot bypass. If they do, they can expect legal challenges from the industry.”
While Ryan expressed serious concerns about the DEA’s move, he said he believes the agency would struggle to make hemp illegal under current laws, thanks to multiple protections put in place by Congress. Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation in the United States as part of five-year, state-regulated pilot programs. Subsequent additions to the 2015 and 2016 Congressional Appropriations Act prohibited the DEA from going after the products produced under these pilot programs.
Ryan added that these appropriations acts “clearly contain language that permits the interstate transit and commerce of these products under the guise that it’s initial market research under the five-year pilot program.”
Indeed, the Denver-based Hoban Law Firm has already promised to challenge the DEA if it tried to ban CBD. On Thursday, Robert Hoban, the firm’s managing partner, called the new classification “an invalid rule” in an interview with Fox 31 Denver. He continued:
“At the end of the day, the DEA needs to sit down, read the Controlled Substances Act, read the farm bill and understand that what they’re saying has practical implications on commerce and on patients around this country. That’s not weight they should throw around so lightly.”
Speaking to MintPress, Ryan was critical of some media outlets for jumping to conclusions about the DEA ruling, which he said creates unnecessary fear among CBD oil users.
For example, Leafly, a popular cannabis news and information website, declared on Dec. 14, “New DEA Rule Says CBD Oil is Really, Truly, No-Joke Illegal.”
“Why don’t we focus more on letting the public know that they are protected?” asked Ryan.
The DEA’s threat against CBD oil is just the latest controversial move by the agency to target over-the-counter herbal remedies. In August, the DEA threatened to ban kratom, a popular treatment for both chronic pain and the withdrawal symptoms caused by addiction to opioid painkillers, only to suspend their efforts amid a wave of popular protest.