Editor’s note: This is the final story in a four-part series on CBD products.
While the CBD industry continues to grow and businesses across Cobb County and Georgia thrive, state lawmakers say they remain unsure of the products and see a push for recreational marijuana creeping into the cannabis conversation.
Cobb lawmakers’ opinions on CBD are mixed, but they mostly agree that legal recreational marijuana should not be in the state’s near future.
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, said she believes CBD products are confusing for consumers. Kirkpatrick, a medical doctor, said the popularity has gotten ahead of the science in an entrepreneurial industry that seems to be more about the money than the benefits of the products.
“CBD oil has been shown to be moderately beneficial for a few things, but it’s being used for everything,” she said. “It’s a little bit of a snake oil in my opinion. … So I think consumers need to use caution and do a little bit of research and not believe everything they read in advertisements.”
One of the main concerns with the CBD businesses cropping up all over town, Kirkpatrick said, is that some business owners have begun to assume a pseudo-medical role, giving customers advice on what products to use for certain conditions. That, the lawmaker said, should be left for medical practitioners, who should also be a patient’s first source of information about the potential benefits or dangers of CBD.
“I’m a doctor, so I’m a scientist. I read the literature, and I go with what it says. … And like I said, sometimes the marketplace gets ahead of the science, and that’s where I have a problem. Because I don’t want people being put at risk,” she said. “People should use caution, and they should definitely talk to their doctor to make sure that it’s not going to interfere with any medications that they’re already on.”
Also concerning, Kirkpatrick said, is the lack of regulation from federal agencies like the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which she said would ensure CBD products’ safety if it was to be FDA-approved.
The widespread use of CBD products also has lawmakers talking about the future of cannabis in Georgia. The state already has a limited marijuana grow program, though, like the hemp farming program, a license-issuing procedure has not been set up yet.
Kirkpatrick said while she doesn’t think a bill pushing recreational marijuana use is likely to appear in the legislative session beginning in January, it seems the state is headed toward that conversation.
“I think that CBD oil and THC oil, medical marijuana, which as you’ve said, has been pretty limited up until now, but now we’re going to be growing it in Georgia. And I don’t think there’s any mystery at all about where the — what we call ‘big weed companies’ — where they’re headed,” she said. “They’re not interested in growing marijuana for 9,000 people that have a medical marijuana card. Their next move is to try to get it legalized for recreational use, which I have a lot of concerns about from a public safety standpoint.”
Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, agrees. Tippins told the MDJ pro-marijuana groups like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, often lay out road maps to recreational legalization. Those maps include a series of steps that is already being followed in Georgia, he said.
“They kind of have a marijuana legalization playbook, and strange enough, you start out with medical marijuana for children who have an emotional appeal to the voter,” Tippins said, referencing a push from parents of children with severe medical conditions who called on lawmakers to begin a medical marijuana program. The state began a low-THC oil prescription registry program in 2015.
Tippins said “the halls of the Legislature were packed with children in wheelchairs and gurneys” as proponents of medical marijuana pleaded for access to medical THC.
But, he said, under federal law, THC is still illegal, so Georgia and any other state in the U.S. with any kind of legal marijuana is still in violation of federal law.
“If the federal government decided to actively prosecute marijuana cases, we’d have a lot of people going to jail that would be claiming, ‘Well I’m just relying on what the Georgia Legislature did, because they said it’s legal in Georgia,’” Tippins said. He added that if medical trials are conducted at the federal level and those officials sign on to THC for medical use, he’ll be more supportive.
For now, though, he said additional movement toward recreational marijuana would be bad for Georgia, the state known as the No. 1 place in which to do business.
While he doesn’t have a problem with CBD, Tippins said the craze is likely more about money than the medical benefits. Like Kirkpatrick, he said CBD products are the only items he’s ever seen that have been marketed as a drug without being regulated by the FDA.
“I think you have anecdotal evidence that CBD gives some additional relief to certain ailments, but I also think it may be a way to get people more comfortable with the idea of having CBD as a derivative of marijuana, and it’s sold and it’s traded and it’s fine,” Tippins said.
He also expressed concern about young people’s use of the products saying that, like alcohol and nicotine, THC has been shown to rewire the developing brain and lead to potential mental health issues.
Though she said she’d leave the opinion of CBD products to consumers who decide to try them, Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, echoed Tippins in his concerns about product usage by children and teens. Anulewicz, a mother of two, said she sees parallels between the marketing of CBD products and the marketing of tobacco and electronic cigarette products, like vape juices.
“There seems to be a goal to make it particularly appealing for young people. When you’re talking about CBD gummy bears and CBD candies,” she said, recalling e-cigarette companies’ offers of fruit-flavored vape juices and attempts at creating appealing social media presences. “If we’re going to be having these conversations about why there should be vape juices in cherry or tutti-fruity flavors, then yeah, why should there be CBD in gummy bear form? It’s extremely concerning.”
As far as the potential medical benefits of CBD, Anulewicz said there will always be products marketed as a “cure-all.” She said consumers should be wary of claims made by people who are trying to sell the products.
“Right now, there are just so many unknowns,” she said. “Clearly many people feel that there is a money making opportunity off these products. … You wouldn’t see all of these places popping up if there weren’t a lot of people willing to buy them. … It’s very difficult to be an informed consumer when there’s so much misinformation about these products, and that’s where I can see there might be a need for some regulatory oversight.”
Anulewicz said the state should approach discussions surrounding recreational marijuana with its eyes wide open to the risks. Cannabis products of today are not the same as cannabis products from the 1960s and 1970s, she said, and if recreational marijuana were to be passed, there should be tough restrictions that protect young people, including a threshold of 25 for use of cannabis products, she said.
“The way that people are consuming it has changed dramatically, and the chemical makeup of the cannabis has changed dramatically,” she said. “It has definitely been cultivated in a way that is extremely potent, extremely powerful, and I think that there’s a growing body of research and data when it comes to what cannabis consumption can mean, particularly for teenagers and young adults and how it changes the way their brains are put together.”
Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, said he supports the growing CBD industry and rejects the “slippery slope argument” made by opponents of marijuana industry expansion in the state.
“I hear the slippery slope argument a lot and I think it can be said of any new statute. Plus there is no shortage of supply illegally. If anything, regulating it will make it safer and control usage,” Allen said.
He recognized that there are concerns about the largely unregulated industry, including lack of oversight from drug professionals and inability for efficient field testing by law enforcement. However, Allen said, to be able to fully explore CBD’s potential health benefits through medical research, there must be more support from lawmakers and the medical community.
On the topic of recreational marijuana use, Allen said the debate continues to rage at the state level all across the nation, and Georgia is still a long way off.