Nothing has changed with CBD oil, says DEA

Nothing has changed with CBD oil, says DEA

VicesDecember 15, 2016 By Reilly Capps

Is CBD now highly illegal? A spokesman for the DEA says no, not any more illegal than it was a few days ago, at least. Nothing has changed in terms of its position in the U.S., despite the conversations going on right now about it online.

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

There are only a few organizations doing approved research grows registered with the federal government right now. The main one is at the University of Mississippi.

As for anyone taking CBDs without federal approval in the past — basically everyone — CBD was considered illegal then too, just as illegal as it was 20 years ago. It's also illegal today, says Bell.

So why the uproar? Because yesterday, the DEA announced it would track "Marihuana Extract" differently from marijuana itself by giving it a different code. Some online outlets claim the DEA has therefore made CBD illegal — as illegal and dangerous as heroin, even. To that, the DEA hasn't changed any law. It can't make things illegal. It can only enforce laws.

So what's the law?

Prominent cannabis lawyers say CBD is legal, and CBD has always been legal. Robert Hoban, a lawyer at Denver's Hoban Law Group, says that CBD cannot be made illegal unless congress changes the law.

"The sky isn't falling," Hoban said. What the DEA did yesterday, he adds, "is technically a benign administrative measure, but it has impacts on the commerce of the industry." 

CBD oil is shipped internationally in and out of the United States. In the past month, Hoban says, his clients have had products seized by customs enforcement agents, who used the new code for CBD as a reason for seizing it.

"There's this premise that if there's a code it must be an illegal substance — which it isn't," Hoban said. "And that causes a lot of problems for the industry."

CBD, of course, is one of the parts of marijuana that doesn't get you high. It calms seizures in kids, reduces anxiety and relieves pain. Regardless of the law, anyone with a sound mind knows how discordant and disruptive it is to try to outlaw and control nature, and everyone with a heart knows how immoral it is to interpret laws in ways that make kids suffer.

Still, if you're a stickler for the rules, you know that the laws on marijuana and CBD have always been extremely confusing and unsettled. That's still the case. The feds say all of it is illegal, no matter what, more illegal than cocaine. Meanwhile, 28 states say it is legal. It's a little like when mom says you can't have a popsicle but dad says you can.

No matter how much relief and happiness CBD users around the nation feel, the DEA spokesman says that as far as the DEA is concerned, people who were shipping CBD across state lines last week were breaking the law, and today they're also breaking the law.

"They should have never been doing it," Bell said. "They need to stop because it's a Schedule I drug."

Does that mean the DEA is going to crack down on CBD shipments across state lines?

"I'm not going to comment on what the DEA's going to do," Bell adds.

Businesses who are selling CBD within states where it's legal at a state level shouldn't expect anything to change. And people who think the DEA is now planning to raid local dispensaries are simply overreacting, he adds.

"They're misinformed," Bell says, "or they're misinterpreting what's going on."

But people who continue to think that, in the eyes of the DEA, marijuana is more illegal than cocaine — no matter how many pot shops pop up on how many street corners — those people remain completely correct. And CBD equals THC in the eyes of the DEA, says the spokesman, no matter what scholars and scientists say.

A good conscience, of course, requires all of us to think about the real people who are helped or hurt by THC and CBD, and to weigh that more heavily than the actions of a few bureaucrats in Washington D.C. — like it’s always been.

A spokesperson for the Denver bureau of the DEA did not immediately return a voicemail about whether any of this will affect Colorado businesses.