Marijuana extract sales remain questionable under Katie's Law
In an office park off Interstate 35, staff in white lab coats at Oklahoma City-based Can-Tek Labs LLC make everything from tinctures, lip balm and massage oil with cannabidiol — an extract from hemp.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of more than 100 cannabinoids that have been identified in marijuana and is believed to have uses to treat many illnesses.
Chief executive officer Ryan Early believes his nonintoxicating cannabidiol products have the potential to help millions of people treat everything from epilepsy to anxiety and joint pain without prescription drugs.
Because Can-Tek's products are made from hemp and not marijuana, Early said he's had to spend time educating law enforcement about what the company does.
“We are growing a plant that is almost completely nonnarcotic,” Early said. “We have nothing more than a dietary supplement as far as the FDA is concerned, because you cannot get high from it.”
While Oklahoma law allows cannabidiol, or CBD, to be used in medical trials to treat people with epilepsy and a few other illnesses, it still cannot legally be sold in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control's current interpretation of the law.
"What the law says is that it can be shipped under care of a licensed Oklahoma physician," said narcotics bureau spokesman Mark Woodward. "It does not say it can be sold. It's pretty clear."
As far as Woodward knows, nobody has yet been criminally charged for selling CBD in Oklahoma.
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- Video: Can-Tek - Cannabidiol products (2017-01-25)
Earlier this month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration finalized a rule that said it would continue to recognize CBD and other marijuana extracts as Schedule I drugs. The DEA classifies Schedule I drugs as those with no current accepted medical use, including heroin, LSD and marijuana.
However, dietary supplements claiming to contain CBD from hemp can be ordered online from several major retailers, including Amazon.com. CBD has also become a popular additive to e-juice, and can be readily found for sale at many Oklahoma vape shops.
CBD products from hemp — like Can-Tek's — that contain little or no psychoactive chemicals, now fall into a gray area of Oklahoma law, Woodward said.
"Until it's really tested in the courts, it's all open to interpretation," he said. "At this point, we are just telling them to read the law and be careful in terms of what it says."
Can-Tek, which opened in the fall of 2016, is the state's first manufacturer of cannabidiol products.
The cannabidiol Can-Tek uses comes not from marijuana, but from medicinal hemp, grown on 70 acres in La Junta, Colorado. Medicinal hemp contains high amounts of cannabidiol, but almost no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
THC is the principal psychoactive chemical in marijuana that gets users high.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill known as "Katie's Law" in 2015 authorizing a medical pilot program using cannabidiol, for patients with certain diseases who are under a physician's care. But many products that claim to contain CBD are already becoming available to the general public.
Katie's Law was named after a Norman girl, Katie Dodson, the niece of Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City.
Katie has Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. Many view cannabidiol as a promising drug treatment for Dravet.
Echols said he couldn't comment on the state narcotics bureau's interpretation of Katie's Law.
"I'm hugely pro CBD — it saved my niece's life," Echols said.
CBD has also become a popular additive to e-juice, used in vaping.
Edmond retailer Edmond Vapes sold CBD e-juice up until recently, but made the decision to stop carrying the products because of their questionable legal status, said Stephen Sellers, purchaser for Edmond Vapes.
"It wasn't worth the risk," Sellers said. "It was decently popular. The people who primarily bought it from us had PTSD or anxiety. It was a completely different customer base, but we didn't want to be a head shop."
Jimmy Shannon, who owns Vapour Kingdom in Norman, had some of his CBD products confiscated by Norman police in August. No charges were brought against him, because the products contained only trace amounts of THC that were under legal limits.
"We had to have a conversation with law enforcement," Shannon said. "What we care about is getting a nonaddictive pharmaceutical into people's hands that is going to help them."
Shannon, who also sells products manufactured by Can-Tek Labs at his other Norman business, Ambary Health, said many customers have told him the CBD products have helped them deal with a slew of health problems ranging from anxiety to chronic pain.
Sarah Jensen, spokeswoman for the Norman Police Department, said officers are now working with Shannon to educate other Norman vape shop owners about the legality of CBD.
"It's one of those laws," Jensen said, "that is written ... kind of murky."
Vote in 2018?
Oklahoma could vote on legalizing medical marijuana in 2018, but only if the ballot measure survives a review by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
State Question 788 would legalize medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation and would also make commercial medical marijuana dispensaries and growing legal.
The group Oklahomans for Health, who backed a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot, is suing Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt over his rewrite of the ballot title.
In December, the Oklahoma Supreme Court asked both parties to tell the court whether SQ 788 is "void on its face in relation to federal law."
The Oklahoma Attorney General's office has argued in court filings that the measure "manifestly conflict's with Congress's policy of a nationwide marijuana ban."