A Colorado marijuana innovation is changing the way lawmakers in even the most conservative parts of the country talk about cannabis and is poised to create a rapid expansion in the number of states that have legalized marijuana in some way.
But many marijuana advocates view the new political campaign with skepticism, fearing it could halt their movement’s momentum.
The invention is a non-psychoactive oil made from marijuana plants that is used to treat children with severe seizure disorders. The oil is rich in a chemical called cannabidiol, or CBD, but is low in THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Spurred by parents of epileptic children, legislatures in at least a dozen states so far this year have or will consider bills about the marijuana oil. Last week, the governor of Utah signed into law a bill legalizing possession of the oil. A bill in Alabama has passed the Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature. Lawmakers in Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin and other states have or will consider CBD bills this year.
“What the CBD movement has done, I think, is brought in the soccer moms to the discussion,” said Josh Stanley, one of a family of Colorado brothers who own a medical marijuana business and developed the oil. “It’s brought in the mainstream, and it’s brought in the conservatives.”
But, even though the bills amount to the most successful discussions ever held about marijuana legalization in some of the states where they are being considered, the nation’s largest marijuana-reform groups view them with skepticism.
The deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has criticized them as “unworkable” and without real benefits. A policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance is concerned the bills will leave other reform efforts behind.
“Is it better than nothing?” asked Mason Tvert, the national spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project and one of the leaders of the marijuana legalization campaign in Colorado. “Potentially. But if it means there is no longer a pressing need for comprehensive medical marijuana legislation, these will be a net negative.”
Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Because the CBD oil is derived from marijuana plants, states that legalize it will also be crosswise with federal law. But because the CBD laws are far more restrictive than typical medical marijuana laws, advocates on all sides of the issues aren’t putting states that pass them in the medical marijuana column.
What the CBD bills have exposed is the long-standing tension within the marijuana movement.