The UK Just Legalized A Marijuana Extract. Is The United States Next?

Patients in the United Kingdom will soon be able to use products that contain cannabidiol (CBD), a natural extract from the cannabis plant that has been found to have a wide range of medical benefits and none of the psychoactive effects – the “high” – that many people have come to associate with marijuana.

The UK’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was the organization in charge of reclassifying CBD.

“MHRA will now work with individual companies and trade bodies in relation to making sure products containing CBD, used for a medical purpose, which can be classified as medicines, satisfy the legal requirements of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012,” an MHRA spokesperson said in a statement.

Gerald Heddel, director of inspection and enforcement, claimed that a shift in attitude on the controversial substance was responsible for the new ruling.

“The change really came about with us offering an opinion that CBD is in fact a medicine, and that opinion was based on the fact that we noted that people were making some quite stark claims about serious diseases that could be treated with CBD,” Heddel told Sky News, adding: “it was clear that people are using this product with the understandable belief that it will actually help.”

Late last year, a cross-party coalition of British parliament members called for a full-on legalization of cannabis on the grounds that doing so could funnel roughly $1.23 billion into the Treasury. Lawmakers also blasted the UK’s current war on cannabis as an “embarrassment,” insisting that it has utterly failed to stop millions of adults from using the drug and has led to an associated network of crime and corruption.

Whereas recreational cannabis users generally enjoy the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) portion of the plant, which is the compound responsible for its psychoactive and potentially anxiety-inducing properties, the CBD portion – which comprises up to 40 percent of the cannabis plant’s extract – has been proven to ease pain and anxiety.

When CBD is isolated from THC and administered on its own, the compound can provide significant relief to patients suffering from illnesses such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, and even cancer. Other scientifically validated uses include helping cigarette users quit smoking, treating schizophrenia and similar forms of psychosis, reducing the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures in both children and adults, and managing multiple sclerosis symptoms.

In the United States, a recent ruling by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) mandated that all cannabis extracts – including CBD – will be re-classified as Schedule I Controlled Substances, those that do not have any recognized medical use. The new scheduling will take effect on January 13 and will place CBD alongside drugs like heroin and LSD due to its alleged potential for abuse.

Despite a heavy blowback from the fledgling legal cannabis growing industry and pro-CBD advocates, the DEA maintains that the re-scheduling is simply meant to create a formal distinction between marijuana and its derivative extracts.

“It’s an internal accounting mechanism for us,” DEA spokesperson Russell Baer told VICE News. “The purpose is to drill down and get more accurate information about research that’s being conducted with CBD in particular.” Specifically, researchers will be able to apply for DEA permission to specifically research cannabis extracts, whereas the system previously did not recognize such a distinction.

As of the beginning of 2017, 28 states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. The new classification will not affect the legality of CBD in those states, which will still contradict federal law in allowing cannabis extracts to be used and sold.

The incoming Trump administration may very well shake things up in the cannabis world: President-elect Donald Trump has oft expressed support for the legalization of medical marijuana throughout his decades in the public eye. Back in the 1990s, Trump even went so far as to demand that all drugs be legalized in order to rob drug lords of their profits, but his attitude has since changed.

On the campaign trail, Trump continued to back medical marijuana legalization, stating during a 2015 rally that it “should be a state issue, state-by state.” However, the president-elect adopted a strong stance against recreational marijuana during the CPAC conference last June: “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”

As for Trump’s cabinet-in-waiting, though, certain appointees could pose a significant challenge to the legalization of cannabis or its extracts in any form, medical uses notwithstanding. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Trump’s pick for attorney general, once insisted that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” adding that the drug was a “very real danger [that is] not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”

Marijuana industry figures have expressed concern that the Trump administration could go after two key federal mandates that have empowered states to enact their own laws on marijuana legalization: the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to target states that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis, and the Cole Memo, a set of guidelines that states must follow in order to immunize themselves from federal involvement related to marijuana legalization.

The Cole Memo, in particular, effectively gave the green light to the recreational marijuana industries in Colorado and Washington when they were still in their infancy, so its withdrawal would have a markedly complicated impact on the dozens of states in which recreational and/or medical cannabis usage is currently legal.

Fortunately for those who want to see marijuana remain open for at least medical usage, though, Trump has indicated no desire to take on the Cole Memo, nor has he made any moves to disrupt the status quo on cannabis legalization in the weeks leading up to his assumption of the Oval Office.

Members of congress, many of whom represent pro-marijuana states, have pointed out that a Trump administration fight against the drug would awaken a plethora of states’ rights issues that would only lead to an untold amount of political headaches – a strong argument to suggest that a Trump presidency may only enable more states to pass their own cannabis laws.

“It would be the beginning of tremendous problems for the Trump administration that they don’t need,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in an interview.