Staff Columnist

Dazed and confused about CBD's legal status in Iowa

The FDA last year approved a highly purified marijuana-derived CBD drug, Epidiolex, to treat some rare forms of childhood epilepsy. But the federal agency has not granted any other drug approvals for CBD and it forbids the use of CBD in cosmetics and as an ingredient in foods. (Dreamstime/TNS)
The FDA last year approved a highly purified marijuana-derived CBD drug, Epidiolex, to treat some rare forms of childhood epilepsy. But the federal agency has not granted any other drug approvals for CBD and it forbids the use of CBD in cosmetics and as an ingredient in foods. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Iowa’s sluggish crawl toward cannabis reform has given rise to mass confusion about what’s legal and what’s not.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller recently published a memo about the legal status of hemp and cannabidiol, or CBD, products in Iowa.

The memo was necessitated by recent changes to state and federal law, as well as the increasing popularity of CBD, a chemical found in hemp and marijuana plants that has potentially powerful therapeutic benefits.

CBD is available to about 3,000 patients through the state’s heavily regulated medical CBD program, but it’s also easy for any adult to purchase lightly regulated products at stores in many parts of Iowa.

Miller is warning Iowans that CBD outside the medical system is illegal. Those who sell or possess it could face criminal penalties.

To understand why CBD still is illegal, simply read the attorney general’s 1,500-word memo. That, plus the hundreds of pages of Iowa Code, federal legislation, medical research and federal regulatory notices the memo refers to.

It’s all as clear as the air on a Willie Nelson tour bus.

The law is so confusing that smart, well-informed people disagree about the current state of cannabis reform in Iowa.

In May, I published a column under the headline, “CBD is easy to get, but Gov. Reynolds warns Iowans it’s still illegal for most of us.”

In response, I received messages from readers telling me, no, actually, the governor and attorney general are wrong.

Even lawyers don’t all agree on whether CBD is legal. The West Des Moines law firm Gourley Rehkemper and Lindholm promotes a blog post that suggests state officials have misled the public about the substance’s legal status.

“The reason merchants aren’t being arrested and prosecuted? It’s because hemp-derived CBD is legal to dispense, sell, possess or use in Iowa. That’s right. We said it,” attorney Colin Murphy wrote this year, before Miller’s anti-CBD memo came out.

All this fuss over CBD, a substance that is not known to have killed anyone, and doesn’t make you “high” the way marijuana does.

The attorney general’s memo correctly notes that products purchased outside the medical program are not regulated for quality by the state or federal governments. They could contain contaminants, or different levels of cannabinoids than advertised.

If our public servants really are worried about the public’s health and safety, the solution is painfully obvious — legalize cannabis derivatives for all adults to possess, and authorize existing medical CBD manufacturers to supply the whole state.

This stupid and entirely avoidable controversy was brought forth by many decades of poor decisions by lawmakers and regulators. The Iowa Legislature should intervene and stop the madness.

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However, until lawmakers step up and do their jobs, law enforcement agents can help make a bad situation tolerable.

Local law enforcement agencies have the authority to take action against CBD buyers and sellers, but Miller’s memo makes clear they also have discretion. Police officers and county attorneys have no obligation to hunt down and prosecute peaceful people who use CBD.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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