California Legalizes Prescription Cannabidiol (Epidiolex)

california cbd epidiolex

At the end of June, we wrote about the FDA’s approval of GW Pharmaceutical’s drug Epidiolex (containing cannabidiol), an oral solution for treatment of seizures. On July 9, 2018, California Jerry Brown signed legislation approving Epidiolex for use under California law.

California, like many states, has its own version of the Controlled Substances Act. Similar to federal law, the California CSA classifies controlled substances into five schedules, the most restrictive being Schedule I and the least restrictive being Schedule V. Under existing California law, cannabidiol (CBD) is Schedule I because it is a compound contained in cannabis, also a Schedule I drug.

Under Assembly Bill 710, the California Legislature made the following findings:

The Legislature finds and declares that both children and adults with epilepsy are in desperate need of new treatment options and that cannabidiol has shown potential as an effective treatment option. If federal laws prohibiting the prescription of medications composed of cannabidiol are repealed or if an exception from the general prohibition is enacted permitting the prescription of drugs composed of cannabidiol, patients should have rapid access to this treatment option. The availability of this new prescription medication is intended to augment, not to restrict or otherwise amend, other cannabinoid treatment modalities including, but not limited to, industrial hemp products and derivatives containing cannabidiol, currently available under state law.

Section 3 of A.B. 710 then adds statutory language that harmonizes federal and California state law on cannabidiol:

if cannabidiol is excluded from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and placed on a schedule of the act other than Schedule I, or if a product composed of cannabidiol is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and either placed on a schedule of the act other than Schedule I, or exempted from one or more provisions of the act, so as to permit a physician, pharmacist, or other authorized healing arts licensee acting within his or her scope of practice, to prescribe, furnish, or dispense that product, the physician, pharmacist, or other authorized healing arts licensee who prescribes, furnishes, or dispenses that product in accordance with federal law shall be deemed to be in compliance with state law governing those acts.

Essentially, this language provides that once CBD can legally be prescribed under federal law, any authorized health care professional who complies with federal law will be deemed to comply with California state law. A.B. 710 goes on to provide that this harmonization does not apply to a CBD-containing product that is made or derived from industrial hemp, as regulated by existing California law.

Finally, the Legislature provides that “in order to ensure that patients are able to obtain access to a new treatment modality as soon as federal law makes it available,” A.B. 710 is an “urgency statute necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety within the meaning of Article IV of the California Constitution and shall go into immediate effect.”

The story of A.B. 710 shows that federalism concerns will continue to arise even once cannabis is federally legal. Because the states are permitted to pass their own controlled substances acts and food and drug statutes, it is possible that federal legalization will not lead to universal availability, just as the repeal of prohibition did not prevent localities from opting out. But we expect that similar laws harmonizing state and federal policy on CBD will be forthcoming, at least in states where cannabis is legal for medical use.

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Author: John Mansfield