At Liberty by Adam Sullivan

Iowa's marijuana witch hunt flouts basic science

Confiscating CBD products serves no public interest

A woman holds marijuana for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A woman holds marijuana for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Not all marijuana is created equally.

Muscatine County law enforcement authorities made national headlines this month after they reportedly confiscated cannabis products from local business owners. The county insists those products are illegal, but medical freedom advocates say they’re trapped in a gray area.

Consumers and taxpayers deserve to know what, exactly, was in the products police took from Iowa businesses. Unfortunately, we don’t.

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren initially refused to disclose the findings he got from the state crime lab, but changed course this week and sent me the one-page document.

The items seized by police claim to contain hemp oil or cannabidiol, known as CBD, one of the therapeutic compounds found in marijuana. A state criminalist reported only that they contain “marijuana concentrate” or “marijuana consumables.”

However, the idea that all marijuana is the same is scientifically and legally illiterate. Cannabis plants contain hundreds of different chemicals, some of which can be processed and obtained legally.

Maybe Muscatine police and lawyers didn’t know products claiming to have marijuana derivatives have been commonly available from U.S. retailers for years, including online and many locations in Iowa. They were on store shelves before Iowa passed its narrow medical marijuana law last year, and never caused any public health issues.

Marijuana is regulated by a complex and frequently contradicting set of federal, state and local regulations. Many of those rules have been imagined by unelected bureaucrats who impose ever-changing interpretations of outdated laws.


Yet even within the government’s overbearing laws, there are ways to produce legal cannabis products. Mature stalks of cannabis plants are specifically exempt from the Controlled Substances Act, as one example.

If the products confiscated from Iowa businesses this month contained THC or high levels of CBD, the government would have a more reasonable case for confiscating them. Without that information, the public can’t know whether Muscatine police were right.

It’s obvious Iowa law enforcement’s procedures for testing alleged marijuana products is out of line with state and national drug laws. The state crime lab’s report on the Muscatine seizures is not precise enough to be useful.

The entire controversy is a product of prohibition. Because the government outlaws a functioning marijuana industry, we have a gray market, depriving consumers of important information.

“First, there are no standards for what makes a ‘CBD product.’ … Second, there is no testing required to confirm that the CBD product has the amount of CBD in it that the makers claim,” doctors with the Drug Policy Alliance wrote in a 2015 statement.

It’s not an optimal system, but it’s surely no public safety crisis.

Do we really want our local police and county attorneys going around busting up health food co-ops for peddling questionable health claims? No one was made safer by the Muscatine marijuana miff, just a little poorer.

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