Indiana Eyes Changes To Law Legalizing Cannabis Extract After Confusion

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The Indiana legislature is weighing changes to a law that regulated a cannabis extract for people with epilepsy, hoping to resolve ensuing confusion for patients and retailers alike.

Lawmakers have filed several bills meant to clarify who can take cannabidiol oil and whether stores can sell it. As it stands now, its use is limited to epileptics on a state registry who must show that other treatments aren’t effective.

The measures, filed at the start of the General Assembly’s 30-day session, come in response to a law that took effect last April creating the registry. But it did not specify how patients can get CBD oil, which has been attributed to a decline in seizures.

In the months since, Indiana State Excise Police reportedly confiscated samples from roughly 60 stores. Then, in late November, Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered police to stop seizing CBD oil for at least two months while legislators review the existing laws.

CDB oil is considered a controlled substance under Indiana and federal law. But the bill approved by Indiana lawmakers last year grants a “limited exception” for people on the epilepsy registry, according to an opinion issued last November by Attorney General Curtis T. Hill Jr.

Even so, he noted that the legislature hasn’t yet addressed the product’s commercial status. As a result, Hill wrote, no one in Indiana is permitted to distribute or sell the oil.

“The law is the law as we understand it,” he said in an interview last week. “The legislature, of course, is free to engage in the process of evaluating where they want to go with CBD oil. … We’ll sit and wait and see what happens.”

Lawmakers so far have proposed a range of bills — from allowing retailers to sell CDB oil only to people on the registry to outright legalization statewide.

Stacey Freibert, owner of Seeds and Greens Natural Market & Deli in New Albany, wants lawmakers to give all people access to the product. In the past, she said, her store has sold five to seven bottles of the oil per day to customers who say they’ve successfully used it to treat ailments from pain to anxiety.

She said she sells products that are below the 0.3 percent threshold of the intoxicating substance THC that lawmakers established in the 2017 bill.

“It’s really important for me to carry because it fits what we do,” Freibert said. “We carry supplements and cater to people looking for natural remedies.”

An Indiana Senate committee began debating a bill last week that would let retailers sell CBD oil after verifying that customers are on the state registry and record the buyer’s state-issued registration card. The product also must be kept in a locked case.

State Sen. Michael Young, a Republican from Indianapolis, told lawmakers that his Senate Bill 294 would help close a loophole in the current law.

“Our citizens now are forced to purchase this product from another state,” Young said. “Retailers cannot sell it. What this bill attempts to do is simply make it legal to sell the product in the state of Indiana by our own retailers.”

As of last week, 85 epilepsy patients and caregivers were listed on the state registry, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Freibert said if lawmakers simply clarify that retailers can sell CDB oil to those people who are registered, she probably won’t continue to carry it. “I won’t save my retail space for it,” she said.

Nathan Renschler, whose Henderson, Ky.-based sells CDB oil derived from industrial hemp to distributors and retailers in Indiana, said restricting sales just to those registered would have a negative effect on his business.

“It would wipe out our market for homeopathic use of CDB oil,” he said. “You don’t have to be extremely sick to take CBD and experience vast benefits.”

In Huntington, Ind., the parents of 2-year-old Jaelah Jerger began using CDB oil to treat their epileptic daughter’s seizures as an alternative to traditional medicine recommended by doctors. They feared permanent side effects, such as infertility.

Her parents said Jaelah’s seizures dropped by 90 percent after she began taking the product. But the confusion in the Indiana law has prompted them to stop.

“The way I see it is, they’re forcing us to neglect her because we already know what has been working for her,” said Jade Jerger, Jaelah’s father.

Senate Bill 214, sponsored by Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, would legalize CBD oil in Indiana. In the House, State Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, is among the sponsors of a bill that would allow retailers to sell the oil and other products from industrial hemp to people with medical conditions that include Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Like the bill that passed last year, House Bill 1214 would require those products to have less than 0.3 percent THC.

Davisson, a pharmacist, said he’d ultimately like to see CBD oil available in Indiana for people with a variety of ailments.

“I think people just ought to be able to buy it basically for medical purposes without any restrictions,” he said.

CDB oil action in Kentucky

Across the U.S., Indiana and Kentucky are among 19 states that have passed laws providing some access to CBD oil, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In many cases, the laws restrict use to people with epilepsy or other medical conditions.

A law that took effect in Kentucky in 2014 cleared the way for people to use CDB oil under the supervision of doctors at University of Louisville or University of Kentucky hospitals. And acting under the federal “Farm Bill” of 2014, the state organized an industrial hemp program managed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

The legislature last year approved a bill that removed CDB oil and other cannabidiol products from the state’s definition of marijuana – as long as they come from industrial hemp or obtain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Two Democrats in the Kentucky Senate have co-sponsored a bill in this year’s session that would expand the 2014 bill, allowing physicians to recommend CDB oil to patients after an in-person evaluation.

Doctors also would have to verify the THC content of the oil. Sen. Reggie Thomas said the measure is intended to improve the health of Kentuckians.

Senate Bill 23 had been assigned to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, where it has yet to have a hearing.

“I think there’s some traction on both sides,” Thomas said. “I think you will see bipartisan support for this bill. I think we understand that this is good for Kentuckians.”

John Taylor credits CDB oil for helping drastically reduce the seizures he began having after suffering three traumatic brain injuries while in the U.S. Army. Now chief operations officer of Louisville-based Commonwealth Extracts, Taylor oversees his company’s production of CBD oil from hemp grown by farmers in the state program.

He said he’s concerned about requirements that CDB products must come from a physician’s recommendation.

“We’re talking about nontoxic, nonfatal compounds that aren’t a threat to public health,” he said. “Why does it have to be restricted and confined to a doctor’s recommendation?”