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Dear Pot Lawyer,

Did you see the World Health Organization’s recent announcement on CBD? Care to weigh in?

Yes, I was glad to see that announcement. For anyone who missed it, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a preliminary report last month finding no adverse health outcomes associated with the use of naturally occurring cannabidiol (CBD). In fact, the report went a step further, and observed that CBD does not induce physical dependence, is “not associated with abuse potential,” and has promising medical applications. Many of us already knew these things, but it was nice to see WHO make this proclamation.

Before we go deep, I should mention for any newbs that CBD is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Often, weed strains and products are classified as “CBD-rich,” which means they have at least as much CBD as THC (usually at least 4 percent CBD by dry weight), or they may be classified as “CBD dominant,” which means they are CBD-rich, but with very little THC content (and cannot get you high). The WHO report mentions little about THC, and nothing much about canna pharmacology beyond the CBD compound. Still, the report is a big deal given that cannabis contains CBD, and given that cannabis is so strictly controlled under international law.

The WHO report is also a “preliminary finding,” which could be a stepping stone to bigger and better things, including de-scheduling of CBD under a famous international treaty called the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. If CBD were de-scheduled, it could be freely traded around the world without countries having to sheepishly violate their treaty obligations, as many do today. The US is arguably one such country, given the proliferation of CBD products for sale online and in weed-legal states.

Whether CBD is legal under US federal law is one of the grayest of legal gray areas. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) attempted to “code” CBD last year, meaning control it, regardless of the source (imported, hemp-derived, whatever). The agency is currently being sued by a bunch of hemp farmers in Colorado over that decision, and one of the DEA’s arguments is that the agency has to control CBD because the federal government needs to read its laws consistently with international treaty obligations. This gets into esoteric legal questions like, “Is federalism trumped by treaties?”—which law professor types like to examine in tedious publications.

There certainly isn’t any argument, however, that states like Oregon with adult use and medical cannabis programs as well as hemp programs, are bona fide CBD playgrounds. If the WHO proclamation leads to a change in international law, there would ostensibly be less pressure on the DEA and the feds, and less justification for the feds, to assert jurisdiction over CBD. This could mean less harassment of states with programs allowing for its distribution and use, more CBD research, and better access to the compound for people who really need it. Here’s hoping.


Got a question? Email us at potlawyer@portlandmercury.com. And remember that if you have a legal problem, contact a lawyer! Our educational musings cannot be relied upon as specific legal advice.