Stephanie Smith gives her son, Paul Borden-Smith, 3, a dose of cannabidiol, a low-THC, cannabis-infused oil, at their home in Louisville. (Mark Leffingwell, Daily Camera)

Colo.-produced CBD oil roils debate on pot reform

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Struggling to generate interest for broader marijuana legalization in the mid-1990s, activists instead got behind more limited medical marijuana initiatives. Since then, reform campaigns have taken on a well-established multiyear pattern: medical marijuana, then dispensaries, then full legalization.

But activists have long feared that, taken to its logical conclusion, medical marijuana could be a “box canyon” for broader legalization efforts. Basically, if more refined medicines derived from marijuana are available, why should lawmakers allow people to grow pot at home?

That is exactly where many activists worry the CBD bills will take their movement — and, perhaps not coincidentally, exactly where people opposed to legalization hope it will go.

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“The question is not if but how,” said Kevin Sabet, the executive director of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “How do we deliver it to families?”

Sabet, whose group opposes marijuana legalization, said he supports further research into and medical development of CBD treatment. But he said that should occur within the established medical processes, something he said the federal government is increasingly willing to expedite.

One pharmaceutical drug — made from 100 percent CBD derived from marijuana plants — has been cleared for clinical trials. The only lab in the country with federal approval to grow marijuana, at the University of Mississippi, will reportedly start growing more CBD-rich strains for researchers to study.

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Sabet said using CBD bills to create interest in marijuana legalization is cynical.

“I think you have a lot of people here who are being used as pawns by the broader legalization movement,” he said.

Tvert, however, said the cynicism lies on the other side. He points to Minnesota, where the governor has proposed a study on CBD in lieu of broad medical marijuana legalization and parents backing medical marijuana have called the move disingenuous.

“It raises the question of whether these CBD-only bills are good enough,” Tvert said.

Even Stanley acknowledges the bills will likely have little immediate impact. The Utah law, for instance, allows parents to possess the oil in that state if a neurologist has said their children will benefit from it. But the law contains no provision for growing marijuana in Utah or making the oil there. And, because it is only sold as a medical marijuana product in Colorado, people have to be Colorado residents to obtain it.

Stanley said his brothers are working on manufacturing the oil from low-THC plants classified as hemp — thus allowing it to be produced outside of Colorado’s complicated medical marijuana system. But, even if that works, Stanley said he hopes CBD laws won’t be the end of the marijuana debate in states that adopt them.

“I’m not one of these guys who wants just CBD-only laws,” he said. “But it’s an opening. It’s a start.”

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, or

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