Senate Bill 22 is one of those pieces of legislation that does more than it says as members of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee learned Tuesday.
The Department of Health submitted the bill, which its attorney testified merely allows South Dakotans to purchase Epidiolex, a marijuana-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, oil approved in 2018 by the Food and Drug Administration.
The product is manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, a firm from the United Kingdom with an office in California called Greenwich Biosciences. The FDA approved the drug for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. It is a new prescription drug and you know what that means — it is costly.
The legislation is clearly important to the company, which has three registered lobbyists from Greenwich Biosciences working at the 2019 Legislature. The company’s lobbyists also were in Pierre during the 2017 session, when Senate Bill 95, another pro-Epidiolex bill, was approved by the Legislature.
But the legislation does much more than secure the status of a single product.
According to the bill’s opponents, SB 22 makes all other CBD oils illegal to possess or sell in South Dakota. While the Health Department’s attorney — Justin Williams — did not make that part of his pitch for the bill, he didn’t dispute it either at Tuesday’s hearing.
What it means for South Dakotans is that hemp-derived CBD oils that were available in the state until police raids in September at stores that sold the product — including two in Rapid City — is treated like an illegal drug.
What makes this legislation curious is that the 2018 Farm Bill, which received the support of Sens. Thune and Rounds and was signed into law by President Trump, removes hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, declares it an agricultural product and places it under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture.
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It is now legal on the federal level to grow industrial hemp and sell, transport and consume hemp-derived products. The legislation is expected to turbocharge the hemp industry, which means millions of dollars are at stake.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, is a leading proponent of hemp, citing the plant’s many uses, which includes CBD oil that many people claim helps with anxiety, sleeplessness and chronic pain. One opponent who testified Tuesday said hemp-derived CBD oil helped wean her off opioids. There also is no evidence the product is harmful or gets anyone high.
So why is state government seeking to make hemp-derived CBD oils illegal?
One school of thought is that the Legislature is being used to help Big Pharma corner the CBD oil market by allowing only those products in the state with FDA approval, a timely and costly process that favors big business. The federal government, however, does not require hemp-derived CBD oils to get FDA approval as long manufacturers don’t make specific health claims — the same standard applied to over-the-counter drugs and vitamins.
The other school of thought is that some lawmakers can’t or won't make a distinction between marijuana and hemp, seeing both as a drug scourge that needs to be discouraged with the threat of incarceration.
The Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee could decide Wednesday on whether the state should criminalize the use of a legal agricultural product on the federal level or let South Dakotans have access to a product many claim helps them and is widely available in other states, including Colorado, Montana and Minnesota.
SB 22 needs to be rewritten. South Dakotans should have access to a product that was once available and is safe, inexpensive and — according to its users — effective.