The I-502 Cannabidiol Confusion
By David Heldreth
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board considered a ban on the use of synthetic and imported cannabidiol (CBD) and THC in the I-502 system in July. The WSLCB rule proposal comes on the heels of a petition from Washington NORML asking the agency to formally block cannabinoid importation specifically. What may seem like something that is intuitively prohibited is currently a grey area for Washington cannabis businesses. Let’s shed some light on the reasons why.
The cannabis plant is identified as marijuana when it has over .3% THC, but the same species with below .3% THC (regardless of CBD content) is considered hemp. Hemp, while illegal to produce federally, is legal to possess and is used in supplements, food products, cosmetics, building materials and more. Parallel to many states’ legalization of medical and recreational marijuana has been the legalization of industrial hemp production.
Due to the fact that the legal definition of hemp makes no mention of CBD content, many are producing high-CBD hemp extracts in the European Union and states such as Colorado with legal hemp programs. Those extracts had been considered to fall under the same protections afforded hemp food or supplements and were being sold and shipped interstate and internationally. That was until January 13—ironically, Friday the 13th—when the DEA clarified that CBD in any form was considered to fall into Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act and was effectively illegal.
This new ruling from the DEA means that any importation of CBD is interstate trafficking of cannabis and as such violates the spirit of the Cole Memo, a set of guidelines the federal government issued to help states avoid federal actions in their medical cannabis markets.
Kevin and Crystal Oliver, of Washington NORML, filed the petition to ban CBD importation hoping to head off any federal intervention due to the Cole Memo and provide protections for medical patients. Crystal said patient safety was her first concern, as none of the imported CBD is facing the testing other Washington I-502-produced cannabis products undergo.
“There’s been reports of CBD and hemp from China or other places being contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides,” Crystal said. “We aren’t even testing the products that are being brought in.”
This isn’t the first time the board has gone down this road. Documents provided by WSLCB state that the board previously attempted to impose a similar importation ban, but were inundated with feedback that such a ban would create a CBD shortage in the state.
However, the recent passage of Washington’s Cannabis Omnibus bill (SB 5131)—which allows seeds and clones to be brought into the medical market from I-502 producers; the recently launched Washington hemp program and ample CBD products already in the I-502 market seem to provide many in-state options for CBD, according to the Olivers, who also own and operate Washington’s Finest Cannabis.
Washington LCB Policy Coordinator Joanna Eide said via email that the rule will be presented to the board in July and then opened for public comment and public hearings. Eide also said the WSLCB is in contact with Colorado because they’re also attempting to regulate CBD in line with federal and state laws. Anyone looking for information on WSLCB actions can go to: http://lcb.wa.gov/laws/get_notifications.
Eide clarified that while imported CBD may not currently be prohibited, it must be labeled as imported by I-502 businesses. The labeling rule being employed is: If solvents were used, a statement must disclose the type of extraction method, including any solvents, gases or other chemicals or compounds used to produce or that are added to the extract. That labeling rule also includes added flavoring or terpenes and their source, such as cannabis, synthetic or botanical, according to Eide.
If you’re looking for an expert’s view, cannabis researcher and former President of the International Cannabinoid Research Society Ethan Russo, MD, expressed a preference for pure plant extracts.
“I am strongly against commercial spiking of cannabis with terpenoids from external sources, as these are most often synthetically derived, have unspecified impurities with possible significant toxicity and were not designed for human ingestion, let alone inhalation,” Russo said (See page XX for more from Ethan Russo). “Rather, I believe that selective breeding for desired cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles is the proper path. The cannabis genome is so plastic that this can be achieved with concerted time and effort employing solely standard Mendelian techniques with no need for genetic modification, CRISPR technology for gene silencing or the like.”
Special to the Cannabiz Journal