Keep your eye on the ball

How a vigilant hemp advocacy organization rallied against a special interest group's bastardized hemp regulation bill

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Cannabis, cannabis oil extracts in jars
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Originally, when Heather Jackson saw the language of SB 205, she agreed with the sentiment. It was just three pages long, she says, and it was aimed at regulating CBD products to prevent manufacturers from including too much THC—the active cannabinoid that gets you high—in products meant to be non-intoxicating. 

Jackson, the co-founder and president of Realm of Caring (RoC), a nonprofit promoting cannabis education, research and support, was fine with all that. She agreed that CBD products, especially those going across state lines, should be regulated to control illicit levels of THC. But then Vicente Sederberg LLP, a Denver-based cannabis law firm and cannabis policy organization, got ahold of the bill. And the next time Jackson saw it, it had swelled in size to 15 pages full of highly restrictive and, in her eyes, regressive cannabis policy.

“They just added so much language that it would have pretty much prohibited hemp in Colorado,” Jackson says. It confused her why a large cannabis law firm was trying to get so involved in regulating hemp. “Big Marijuana writing regulatory structure for hemp just makes no sense to me.” 

Among other things, the bill would have limited non-intoxicating hemp extract tinctures to 20 milligrams of THC per bottle, with criminal penalties for exceeding that number. It would have required Colorado CBD manufacturers to destroy their stock of non-intoxicating full-spectrum products, and potentially impose criminal and civil penalties on their storage and distribution. It did not require any kind of scientific analysis to determine whether cannabinoid products are “intoxicating,” and did not provide a path for protecting the retail sale of CBN products (that are also non-intoxicating). It also limited the sale of non-intoxicating cannabinoids to CBD, CBG, and CBC, stifling innovation with all other novel cannabinoids.

“I was talking with different producers of products and they all agreed that would take them out of business,” Jackson says. “They had so much minutia inside that bill that there would have hardly been a product left on the shelf,” meaning the products that saved her son Zaki’s life were going to disappear or become prohibitively expensive for her family. 

“So that’s when Realm of Caring got involved.”

Jackson started RoC in 2013, after witnessing the power of CBD medicine firsthand. Her son, Zaki, has a rare and severe disorder called catastrophic epilepsy. Prior to discovering CBD, he was on 17 different pharmaceuticals to control his seizures, according to Jackson, but the cocktail of medicines wasn’t working. Zaki was eventually moved into hospice palliative care in 2012 and in a last ditch effort they started experimenting with CBD.

The results were extraordinary. 

“Essentially, my son transitioned off of hospice within three months,” Jackson says. “His condition was in remission and he spent the better part of four years with no seizures at all. So that’s how Realm of Caring was founded . . . I felt just an extreme sense of urgency for this community to know that this was an option.”

Through RoC, Jackson started facilitating and encouraging mainstream acceptance of plant-powered therapies. Using research, education and grants, RoC helps individuals and families find the right products, understand dosage, and generally learn about cannabinoid therapy. 

In response to SB 205, Jackson says RoC went into overdrive to protect access to these life-saving medicines. 

“[Vicente Sederberg] was pushing this scare tactic or false narrative around: ‘Oh, these people are getting hurt,’ and that sort of language was just unnecessary,” she says. RoC had never received even a single complaint in seven years of operation about someone’s CBD products being too strong or slightly intoxicating—let alone that someone had been harmed by a product.

Yet here was a bill crafted specifically to mitigate that perceived problem. 

“I just felt the same sense of urgency I felt 10 years ago,” Jackson says. “I felt that again in my heart and [needed] to make sure that we do this right.”

RoC started working with one of the bill’s prime sponsors, Stephen Fenberg, to refine SB 205 to achieve its regulatory goal without compromising Colorado’s hemp industry, and without compromising patient access to plant medicine. Jackson says she’s on board with regulation—she just wants to make sure it’s done right to set an example for the rest of the country. 

It wasn’t easy. With the amount of back and forth, last minute changes and committee conversations, Jackson says she’s amazed that bills ever get passed. But it paid off. As of Tuesday, May 11, the bill had passed appropriations, and all of the problematic changes to SB 205 had been extracted from or clarified within the bill. If it passes in its current form (which RoC believes it will) it would only: authorize prohibiting chemical modification, conversion or synthetic derivation of intoxicating isomers from hemp; create a scientific task force to study intoxicating hemp products and make legislative and rule recommendations; and declare violations of provisions that apply to hemp as deceptive trade practices. 

“The good news is that in the 11th hour, everybody worked together,” Jackson says. “So I guess the moral is: keep your eye on the ball. We can work together to make sure that the people who need this most have it.” 

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Email the author at wbrendza@boulderweekly.com

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