Kentucky and South Carolina today joined Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Utah* in pressing medical marijuana bills that only legalize marijuana plants high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive constituent of marijuana. Legislators in these states explain that even a strictly regulated medical marijuana bill can’t get a hearing in their state capitol, but legalizing a medicine that doesn’t get people high might have a shot of passing. Now, a growing chorus of medical marijuana advocates is rising to protest these bills.
In a post explaining that high-CBD cannabis legislation will do more harm than good, John Malanca of the United Patients Group writes, “As great as it is to see support for this valuable medication come from unexpected places (Utah?!), let’s not forget that high-CBD cannabis is not the only kind that helps sick children. And children with other diseases -- especially cancer -- need THC.”
Mike Hyde, father of the late Cash Hyde, a young boy who fought brain cancer with the help of cannabis oil, explained, “The new cannabis legislation will not allow the kind of cannabis that helped Cash Hyde; its definition of ‘good’ medical cannabis is too narrow.”
Marijuana activist Vanessa Waltz goes further in her post “Why No Parent Should Support CBD-only Legislation.” She explains that parents who’ve been treating their children’s epilepsy found that “CBD-rich extracts alone are unlikely to provide adequate seizure control without THC supplementation.”
Waltz’s piece quotes Renee Petro, whose son Branden has a form of pediatric epilepsy. At first Petro was lobbying for CBD-only legislation until she learned of the great variance in CBD:THC ratios needed for different patients. She also realizes that epilepsy is only one childhood disease cannabis can help. “I have a friend whose child has an auto-immune disease. He needs THC,” Petro says. “How could I look my friend in the eye and say sorry, you’re out of luck, my kid’s more important than your kid?”
Legislators are timid creatures. In these red states, most are very reluctant to appear pro-medical marijuana, but CBD-only bills give them the chance to be pro-compassion where the politics are very anti-pot. Minnesota Rep. Carly Melin would avoid a gubernatorial veto with a bill that “would legalize only the non-narcotic” medical marijuana. “You can’t get high on it, and it has no street value,” states Alabama Rep. Mike Ball. “It makes no sense to ban CBD oil, a non-psychoactive chemical derived from cannabis,” opines South Carolina Rep. Tom Davis. “It’s not a drug, it’s not medical marijuana,” says Utah Rep. Gage Froerer. “It does not have psychoactive or hallucinogenic properties,” explains Wisconsin Rep. Robb Kahl. “We had to fight the perception… that we were going [to be] allowing six-year-olds to smoke a joint,” warned Georgia Rep. Allen Peake. “I think this is using the substance wisely as God intended,” added Florida Rep. Rev. Charles Van Zandt.
Some advocates for CBD-oil are unapologetic about separating themselves from the greater medical marijuana movement. The group Hope 4 Children with Epilepsy defiantly states they are “NOT advocating for a medical marijuana program” and that Alepsia (their euphemism for CBD-oil) “DOES NOT MAKE CHILDREN HIGH.” In Florida, Joel Stanley, one of the Colorado brothers growing the high-CBD “Charlotte’s Web” strain, explained to a House committee that his pot was originally called “Hippie’s Disappointment” because, “They can smoke it till they get a headache, but they're not going to get high.”
This demonization of the high from THC has some medical marijuana activists seething. Waltz penned another piece, “God Created THC: The Threat of The New Woman’s Christian Temperance Union,” wherein she notes the Stanley Brothers’ recent comments to the Colorado Springs Gazette. “We are not a bunch of stoners, and we do not associate with the stereotypes of what people would like to associate with us,” Joel Stanley said. When asked how five brothers who went to Christian school could become marijuana growers, he explained, “If we were growing psychoactive plants for a bunch of potheads, then that would be the question. But what people should ask is ‘How did a group of Christians come to grow a plant for sick people?’” (By the way, 30 percent of the Stanley Brothers’ crop is psychoactive plants. They sell those to the “potheads” to help fund the growing of Charlotte’s Web for “sick people.”)
What the medical marijuana advocates railing against CBD-only bills are discovering is that once they declared “we’re patients, not criminals,” they endorsed a frame in which there is good (medical) marijuana and bad (get you high) marijuana and a need for an arbiter to decide which pot smoker goes into which category. As more states enacted medical marijuana, the arbitration of who deserves the good marijuana became stricter -- in the 1990s West Coast medical marijuana, almost anyone qualifies; in the 2010’s East Coast medical marijuana, almost no one qualifies -- and the need to control the bad marijuana led to the last nine medical marijuana states having no home grow for patients.
Medical marijuana advocates are also discovering that rhetorical payback is a bitch. When they pushed for medical marijuana in the '90s, they would wheel out the sickest cancer patients and ask, “How could you not vote to help this poor sick person?” That convinced many voters to put aside their anti-pot bigotry and support medical marijuana. It also convinced many legalization advocates to defer the fight for the liberty of 100 percent of marijuana users to help the sickest 10 percent, because medical marijuana was politically feasible and legalization was not.
Now, groups pushing for CBD-only bills are wheeling out the sickest epileptic kids and asking, “How could you not vote to help this poor sick person?” They’re willing to defer the fight for the liberty of 100 percent of the medical marijuana patients to help the sickest 2 percent (according to MPP) because high-CBD bills are politically feasible and medical marijuana is not.
The only way to untangle this Gordian Knot is for all marijuana advocates to band together and fight for the liberation of the plant, period, not the endorsement of acceptable reasons to use it. Only when the “potheads” who are “getting high” on THC are tolerated will the patients who need THC and CBD for medicine be truly free to get it.
* A previous article of mine incorrectly included Pennsylvania on the list, based on a mistaken report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I regret the error.