Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had to modify recent guidance his office issued on cannabidiol (CBD) products last week after changes to federal law made certain products, previously considered controlled substances, legal in Alabama.
Synthesized from industrial hemp, CBD oil contains very little, if any, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound lending psychoactive properties to marijuana. The state has loosened laws in recent years so CBD products could be used to treat epilepsy and seizures.
Recently, however, people across the U.S. have found CBD useful for treating chronic pain, insomnia and other conditions. Stores have continued to sell products containing CBD even though those products exist in a bit of a legal gray area in some states.
The Alabama Legislature passed laws in 2014 and 2016 creating a very limited window for a small number of designated patients to treat epilepsy and other specified illnesses with CBD, but according to Marshall’s office, those laws didn’t legalize the possession or use of CBD in Alabama.
Amid confusion in late November, Marshall and other law enforcement officials issued guidance on whether certain CBD oil products were legal to possess or sell in Alabama, concluding that none of them were.
However, with Congress’ passage of the 2018 Farm Bill last week, extensions were awarded to existing pilot programs that temporarily legalized industrial hemp production in 2014. According to Marshall’s office, the bill means “CBD derived from industrial hemp, with a THC concentration of not more than .3 percent on a dry weight basis, can be legally produced, sold and possessed in the state of Alabama.”
“With regards to controlled substances, Alabama law is generally guided by the federal controlled substances regulated through the Drug Enforcement Administration,” Mike Lewis, a spokesperson for Marshall’s office, told Lagniappe. “Usually, any change would come from DEA. In this case, it was unique in that Congress itself legislated the change by basically removing hemp as a controlled substance nationally, and federal law supersedes state law on this matter.”
The attorney general’s office issued updated guidance on CBD products following the Farm Bill’s passage, though Marshall did note products derived from marijuana and those derived from hemp with a THC concentration above .3 percent remain illegal in Alabama.
Each state will still be able to regulate the production of industrial hemp, though. John McMillan, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI), has already said the agency will be working with Gov. Kay Ivey and the AG’s office to create state regulations.
Despite the recent 180-degree shift in the law, things have been business as usual in Satsuma at CannaBama: The CBD Store. Even though establishments selling CBD in other parts of the state have been subject to police raids, co-owner Jennifer Boozer says she’s never been worried.
“It’s been kind of like the wild west out here a little bit, but when people ask me if it makes me nervous, I always say, ‘Do I seem like a person irrational enough to risk my life and my children’s future for something that maybe isn’t legal?’” Boozer said. “I spoke with local police, I spoke with a DEA agent and I spoke with a lawyer before we set up the first sign.”
After Marshall’s office issued its original guidance in November, Boozer didn’t exactly lay low. Ads for CannaBama: The CBD Store could and can still be seen clearly on local billboards and heard in radio spots.
Boozer also maintained a state business license to operate CannaBama during that time, telling Lagniappe she’s always been confident in the legality of her CBD products because there have always been state and federal laws supporting her.
Specifically, she pointed to the Alabama Industrial Hemp Research Program Act of 2016, which removed industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana and authorized ADAI to begin researching the validity of hemp becoming a cash crop in Alabama.
Even though there was a small gap between their expiration in September and the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the previous pilot programs legalizing industrial hemp on the federal level are another reason Boozer felt comfortable continuing to sell CBD products locally.
If there was some type of legal issue with her business, Boozer said, it didn’t seem to bother local law enforcement. She said her storefront is only a block from the Satsuma Police Department and offered some of the customers she’s had since opening work in law enforcement.
“We’ve never been worried about the business, but we do worry about what other people think as far as them not giving CBD any real thought because they don’t understand the law,” Boozer said. “They just continue suffering, when we know we can help them. That’s what bothers us.”
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