Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, said that when he authored a bill last year granting legal immunity to people who owned CBD oil to treat epilepsy, he was trying to offer alternatives to families who couldn’t find relief from other drugs or treatments.
But when Gov. Eric Holcomb in April signed the bill into law, Friend said, he was “kind of shocked” about what happened next.
In June, Indiana State Excise Police began raiding dozens of stores and confiscating CBD oil products, saying it was illegal to own except for people buying it to treat epilepsy who had signed up on a state cannabinoid registry.
The move led to months of confusion about the legal status of CBD oil.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in November he considered it illegal, since it is derived from the cannabis plant, which is also the source of marijuana.
Holcomb in December then issued a 60-day grace period to stores so excise police could “educate, inform and issue warnings to retailers so there is a reasonable period of time for them to remove products that contain THC,” the chemical that causes the “high” in marijuana.
Now, Friend is among a group of legislators who have filed bills this year to clear up the confusion about CBD oil and expand its use to more people. At least 10 bills have been filed that deal directly with cannabinoid oil or industrial hemp, which is used to produce the oil.
One bill proposes legalizing hemp extract as long as the product is tested to show it doesn’t contain any THC. Another bill would allow retailers to sell CBD oil as long as it’s stored in a locked case and the seller takes steps to verify the buyer is on the state’s cannabinoid registry.
Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, filed a bill that would outright legalize the oil for anyone to buy as long as it doesn’t contain more than 0.3 percent of THC.
“When we’re done, CBD will be as easy to obtain as baby aspirins,” he told WTHR earlier this month.
The legislation filed by Friend requires more oversight and testing of industrial hemp to ensure it doesn’t contain more than 0.3 percent of THC. Only products that have been tested and approved by the state’s seed commissioner could be sold.
It also only allows people to buy the oil who are on the cannabinoid registry, but expands the list of medical conditions covered by the registry to include ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell disease.
Friend said he left the registry in place in his bill as a way to satisfy the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys, which in November said it opposed legalizing marijuana in any form, for any purpose.
“It’s like walking a tight rope because you have to have some cooperation with attorneys and the Attorney’s General Office and state police and the administration,” he said. “They all have to cooperate.”
However, Friend said, he’s not opposed to doing away with the cannabinoid registry all together as long as it “keeps the bill moving forward.”
“The more we move forward, the more it seems that lots of people think the registry is a redundant thing that doesn’t need to be in there,” he said. “ … There’s a growing number of people who say, ‘Look, this is not a compound that will make you high or give you buzz, so perhaps we should just treat it as an herbal supplement and allow people to buy it and use it and own it.’”
One of those people is Mike Wilson, owner of American Dream Hi-Fi in Kokomo, who sells CBD oil at his downtown record store. He said the product he sells doesn’t contain any THC, which makes it legal to possess.
Wilson said the oil has proven health benefits that his customers have come to rely on, and the fact that excise police last year raided stores to confiscate it was a travesty for people who need it.
“Indiana is consistently behind the rest of the country as far as progressive values and moving the ball ahead as a society,” he said. “This is just another embarrassment to our state.”
Wilson said he’s advocating for a full-out legalization of CBD oil, regardless of its THC content, to get it into the hands of anyone who needs it.
“The bigger issue is that people who take it are dropping pharmaceutical medications for depression, lupus and seizures,” he said. “There are people who are going from five medications down to zero.”
Friend said he’s been inundated with calls from people just like Wilson who tout CBD oil as a legitimate treatment for a slew of medical conditions.
“These are people who are very honest and upstanding,” he said. “These are not people who are going to the head shops. These are people with legitimate maladies, and they are seeking relief – relief that isn’t coming from the pharmaceutical drugs that might make them drowsy or dopey.”
What kind of legislation regulating CBD oil will ultimately make it to the governor’s desk for signature is yet to be determined as each bill makes its way through committee. But, Friend said, whatever the final bill says, the end goal is the same.
“We’re trying to get this thing sorted out,” he said.
Friend’s bill is set for a hearing in the Court and Criminal Code committee on Jan. 24.