Most media lied to you about the DEA making CBDs illegal

Most media lied to you about the DEA making CBDs illegal

VicesDecember 23, 2016 By Brian Frederick

“The sky isn’t falling,” says Robert Hoban, an attorney and managing partner at the Hoban Law Group. He's spent the better part of this past week fielding calls and emails after a few alarming reports online went viral. On the surface, it appeared the DEA made the medicinal part of weed, or CBDs, completely illegal — as illegal as heroin and more illegal than cocaine and meth, actually.

Predictably, the Internet went fucking berserk, and the conversation quickly devolved into a “torch the DEA” and “our rights are obliterated now that Trump is here” comment rant-fest. Thousands upon thousands of people shared stories based off of the reductive (or just plain wrong) headlines. One mother burst into tears, filled with a disabling dread at the notion she may not be able to get her sick kid medicine anymore.

However, all of it just simply wasn’t true, and Ana Breis is pissed that the misinformation got so far.

“I saw a Huffington Post story about it as soon as I woke up,” she says (the story has since been deleted). “I saw it in one of the CBD groups I’m a part of and parents were losing their shit — naturally. I still work, so had to go, but couldn’t really focus all day. I just kept reading about it.”

She says eventually a story from The Cannabist pointed her in the right direction. That outlet took the time to call the DEA (we did, too) and sorted out fact from fiction before posting its article. Around dinnertime that same day, Breis felt better about the situation.

But the damage had already been done.

“There were other outlets with headlines like ‘It’s illegal now’ or videos saying it’s a Schedule I drug now,” adds Ana. “But no, that’s not it at all. These journalists should be ashamed of themselves. I cried almost all day for nothing.”

In fact, Robert Hoban was one of the main sources in the articles she’s referencing, except, his words seemed to be misconstrued and used more for shock value than supporting a clear and accurate story.

We followed up with him, just to make sure.

“It really is a benign administrative act,” he says. “So they made a new number, big deal.”

The way he sees it, however, is that the fallout from a move like this from the DEA can cause confusion with agencies down the line that take those words as bond. It's already happened, too. A client of his who ships CBDs in from other countries has already had them confiscated by agencies referencing the new administrative number.

In reality, all the DEA was looking to do was find a more accurate way to track CBD extracts separate from everything else, giving it its own code  — but only for those places that hold a federal license in the first place (there are only a few in the nation).

When we spoke to the DEA about it, that’s about exactly what they said, too.

"People are reading way too much into this," Steve Bell, spokesperson for the DEA, said. "Nothing has changed from a week ago to today, except the process we use to track who is doing research grows."

To be perfectly clear, Bell added, this doesn’t affect private companies, at all — even though he says CBDs are illegal and have been for quite some time.

But …

“Fact of the matter, it’s disrupting commerce,” Hoban claims. His clients are feeling squeezed by it already, which is strange, he says, because CBDs can’t be illegal, by the very definition the DEA uses.

“Cannabinoids are not in the Controlled Substances Act,” he says. “Marihuana (which is how the government spells it mainly for historical reasons) means all parts of the sativa L plant,” and not anything derived from mature stalks, oil, extracts, cakes … etc. etc. Hoban believes — and fights under the premise that — the DEA doesn’t understand (or care about) its own definitions.

To him, all CBDs are legal, and he’ll continue fighting the agency to prove it.

Jason Warf, executive director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, agrees with Hoban and the DEA, in that this whole thing isn’t such a big deal. It’s been blown way out of proportion.

“This action reclassifies CBD internally for purposes of study,” he says via email. “That is all that this memo does. It then goes on to say that current licensees must adhere to the new application, as a result of these changes.

“This was a very simply written memo that is extremely easy to decipher for anyone with a background in technical writing.”

But the area around cannabis, weed, marijuana, THC, CBDs … whatever … he says, is still an extremely grey area that needs to be approached with caution and common sense.

“I encourage people to be vigilant every single day in regards to the federal government and anything cannabis related,” he adds. “The DEA may do anything they like at any turn, with very little oversight. That being said, make sure to do your best not to buy in to anything until it is fully understood. Even then, verify it through multiple sources. It only causes confusion and unnecessary fear among our patient community. I have written legislation for a long time and I fully understand technical writing. Even then, I ran my opinion on this by multiple attorneys that we work with.”

If you or your kid uses CBDs to treat any number of the ailments it’s been proven to help, you’re fine, carry about your day, at least that's according to two cannabis lawyers and the official DEA spokesperson.

“Keep using your CBD medicines,” says Warf. He doesn’t think anyone or anything is coming for it. “At least not today. … "

TL;DR Cheat Sheet

- The DEA claims CBDs are illegal and have been illegal for a long time.
- Legal experts refute that claim, using the federal government’s own definition of ‘marihuana’ as evidence.
- People using CBDs right now shouldn’t be alarmed by last week’s administrative update.
- Hoban says he has it on good authority that the new administration won’t be a bad thing for the future, either.
- CBDs (and weed, for that matter) is a state’s rights issue, and will likely stay that way.
- There are federal bills already moving through Congress to clear up confusion.