In this post from The Leaf-Chronicle, Philip Grey reports that CBD oil to treat severe epilepsy has been legalized in Tennessee, but many Tennessee families are still in the dark about whether CBD is available, and what the procedures are for legally obtaining and using it.
The cause of medicinal marijuana seemingly took a step forward in Tennessee this month when Gov. Bill Haslam signed a measure making an extract of marijuana legal for use in treating intractable epileptic seizures.
Initially, the legalization of non-intoxicating cannabidiol oil (CBD) was sought for child victims of particularly severe forms of epilepsy, but the final version of the bill has made CBD available for anyone suffering from debilitating seizures.
There is enough evidence of CBD’s effectiveness to convince former opponents like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and local leaders like physician state Sen. Mark Green.
However, many Tennessee families are still in the dark about whether CBD is available, what the procedures are for legally obtaining and using it, and how the process of determining eligibility is supposed to work.
Adding problems these families don’t need are questions as to whether CBD is still illegal under federal law and whether out-of-state providers are violating the law. The answers are important because CBD cannot be made in Tennessee.
Unfortunately, with the issue of medical marijuana in flux and subject to a confusing welter of laws at different levels of government and at cross-purposes, the answers are far from clear.
The day after Haslam signed the bill, Doak Patton, director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Tennessee, said he was inundated with requests for information.
“I’ve been on the phone all day with people,” Patton said May 5, “but I don’t know what to tell them. Since it’s not made or available in Tennessee, will people bringing it in from out of state be breaking federal law? The specifics aren’t out there.”
However, the Mathes family of Greene County has been ready for a change in the law for a while, hoping CBD would become available for their 16-month-old daughter Josie, who suffers hundreds of seizures a day.
Stacie Mathes, Josie’s mother, spoke to The Leaf-Chronicle and detailed the procedures for obtaining CBD.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), CBD oil and all other parts of the marijuana plant are still classified as Schedule I substances, meaning that, officially, there are no recognized legitimate medical uses.
There are, however, narrow channels where aspects of existing law are being bypassed, for now.
“CBD is still somewhat illegal,” Mathes said, “but this law will protect parents once you get the CBD inside of the state of Tennessee. For instance, it’s legal in Colorado where they have one of the most effective versions, called Charlotte’s Web, but how do you get it in Tennessee?
“There is a group called Realms of Caring (RoC) that is helping parents to get CBD. We contacted them in October to get the ball rolling when we thought we were going to have to do what other people in Tennessee were doing.”
Those families were leaving the state, joining a growing number of “marijuana refugees” desperate to get help for their seizure-stricken children.
“We thought we would have to go, to move, to help our daughter,” Mathes said. “With their (RoC’s) help, we are able to obtain CBD through the Stanley Brothers (Stanley Brothers Social Enterprise), which now ships CBD to 48 states.”
Nicole Mattison of RoC, whose own family moved to Colorado last year to obtain medical CBD for her daughter, Millie, 3, told The Leaf-Chronicle the shipments are allowed under the U.S. Agricultural Act of 2014 (also commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill”), which includes a section on the “Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research.”
“Charlotte’s Web products are Farm Bill-compliant, with independent verification already completed by the Department of Agriculture,” she said in an email. “And RoC is conducting an IRB (institutional review board)-approved study for seizure and epilepsy disorders we urge all of our clients to enroll in.”
“Just a short time ago,” Mathes said, “the makers of Charlotte’s Web had a wait list of 12,000 people. They’ve upped their production, and now there is no wait list, and parents don’t have to come to Colorado or get a card. All they have to do is go to www.theroc.us and fill out their information. They’ll get a log-in and a password. They’ll have access to a dosing calculator based on that specific oil, which is standardized so there’s no confusion.
“Then they’ll go to the Stanley Brothers website, which is www.cwbotanicals.com and place their order. Anybody can order, but it’s $600 a bottle. However, if you are an RoC client, at checkout your price will be $250. That’s their client price.
“There are other providers in other places. I don’t know too much about them. But you have to be careful on the Internet because there have been problems. The Stanley Brothers have a great reputation.”
Realms of Caring doesn’t actually sell any products, Mattison said, but they do use studies, experiences and research to help guide administration for individuals using Charlotte’s Web, which they endorse as safe and effective, produced in an FDA-registered lab, following FDA practices.
‘We worked so hard’
Under the new Tennessee law, any prescription recommendation has to come from a doctor licensed to practice in Tennessee.
Felicia Harris of Clarksville, whose daughter Lexy suffers from Dravet syndrome, has been going to a Missouri neurologist and will have to get an in-state doctor now, not necessarily a neurologist. But she thinks that’s a small consideration now that CBD is available and legal in Tennessee.
“I’m just overwhelmed with excitement that people like us can finally get our kids the treatment that will help them without jumping over a whole lot of hoops,” Harris said. “It almost doesn’t seem real because we worked so hard. Last year’s bill didn’t help because it still wasn’t available to us.”
That bill, which passed in 2014, authorized a pilot test that was supposed to be run by Vanderbilt University using in-state product developed by Tennessee Tech. But the Drug Enforcement Administration didn’t give the necessary permission, meaning the test program was dead from the start.
Without DEA authorization, the school risked losing critical federal research funding and Title IV financial aid.
To do what many other families had done and move out of state, Harris would have had to split her family up, since her husband serves in the military.
“There were all these strings attached,” she said, “and now it’s like those strings have been cut.”
‘It’s still illegal’
However, despite the excitement for the small number of people affected, there is a strong possibility that the Tennessee law may be putting families at risk of federal prosecution.
A letter obtained by The Leaf-Chronicle Saturday from NORML’s national deputy director, Paul Armantano, states unequivocally that the Stanley Brothers are violating both federal and Colorado state law in shipping across state lines.
Armantano infomed medical marijuana advocate Bernie Ellis of Santa Fe, Tenn., who forwarded the letter, “One of the federal government’s (eight) stipulations in their 2013 memorandum was that product sales in legal states not be diverted across state lines.”
The memo cited can be accessed at http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/3052013829132756857467.pdf .
“Also,” Armantano wrote, “to qualify to use cannabis medically in Colorado does require authorization from a state-licensed physician and residency.
“Clearly the Stanleys are in violation of federal law shipping CBD, a federally controlled Schedule I substance, across state lines. However, the Feds for the time being may be looking the other way. But that should not be conflated with ‘legal.'”
Ellis, who has been at the forefront of medical marijuana issues for years, agrees, and warns that while the Stanley Brothers are in violation of federal and Colorado law, families that order CBD to be shipped from out-of-state are violating federal law as well.
In a phone interview on Saturday, Ellis, who was engaged in a long back-and-forth with Mattison of RoC on his Facebook page regarding the legal issues of CBD, told The Leaf-Chronicle, “My concern is that the families are subject to prosecution. As far as Realms of Caring goes, I’m all in favor of civil disobedience, but not in putting these families at risk.
“The Department of Agriculture Farm Bill does not supercede the Controlled Substances Act, and in fact, the 2014 Farm Bill does not specifically refer to CBD. It’s still illegal. There’s no maybe about it.”
On Facebook, Ellis stated, “Some of us have been saying this for months. But these days, to paraphrase an old saying, Republican legislators listen only to Republican supporters and none of them listen to those who, you know, know.
“Two years. Two worthless and (now) illegal laws. I sure hope you folks don’t try for three. Koozer-Kuhn always was, always will be the best hope for Tennessee patients, families and farmers.”
Koozer-Kuhn refers to the Tennessee Democrat-sponsored medical marijuana bill that died in committee in 2014.
In Tennessee, mostly still illegal
Issues of obtaining the drug aside, once it is inside Tennessee, it should be understood that possession of CBD oil in the state is legal now only within a narrow framework for a specific purpose: to treat intractable epilepsy.
Even though the oil contains almost none of the intoxicating component of marijuana, possession is still illegal for any other purpose.
Mathes, whose husband works in law enforcement, said there are two things people need to have with them at all times to avoid problems with the law: a doctor’s authorization and a receipt from where the prescription was obtained.
“If you get pulled over,” she said, “law enforcement has no way to test the oil. So you’re going to have to show those two proofs if you’re carrying the oil.”
Next up for Tennessee is a more ambitious and comprehensive Republican-sponsored medical marijuana bill – controversial on both sides of the aisle. It moves forward into summer study, with advocates and opponents getting ready to man the battle lines again in 2016.