JACKSON HOLE, WY â AÂ New Mexico woman driving through Jackson, Wyoming, on her way to Montana to care for her ailing mother left the state recently with a life-changing souvenir.
In early July, Anita Maddux, 50, was charged with a felony for possessing a 10-milliliter sample bottle of cannabidiol (CBD) oil from Cidâs, a Taos, New Mexico, health food store. Now Maddux could face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine pending an August 16 hearing.
Jailed as a ‘flight risk’ for CBD: A 50-year-old woman driving home to nurse her mother fighting stage 4 cancer.
On Sunday, July 8, Maddux was drivingÂ from New Mexico to Montana to care for her mother, who has stage 4 colon cancer. Maddux uses CBD oil for her own chronic back painâshe has a missing disc between her L1 and L2 vertebrae. CBD oil, she said, had brought her some relief, though she took it only sporadically.
At Cidâs, Maddux worked as an herbalist in the health and wellness department where she received a sample shipment of CBD oil from Functional Remedies. The Colorado companyâs CBD oil can be found on the shelves of many health food stores and groceries, including Luckyâs Market in Jackson at the time of her arrest. Weeks ago, Maddux placed the sample bottle in her bag and didnât give it another thought.
On Sunday, July 8, as Maddux drove north toward Montana, Teton County Sheriffâs Deputy Jesse Willcox noticed Madduxâs expired California license plate. He pulled Maddux over and discovered she was driving with an expired license and without insurance. Maddux said she has led a simple life and didnât have the money to address those issues before hitting the road. âMy plan was to just get to Montana, to be with my family and take care of everything there,â she said.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Willcox asked Maddux if she could pay an $850 fine for the tickets or appear in court on July 31. The affidavit stated Maddux said she could do neither.
She didnât think that would land her in jail, Maddux said.Â âI have never been pulled over before. So I thought the best thing to do was just to be honest about my situation.â A July 30 background check on Maddux showed she has no criminal history.
After he deemed her âa flight riskâ because she could not pay the fines and was likely to not appear in court, Willcox arrested Maddux.
At Teton County jail, personnel found her CBD oil and used a NIK test to determine the presence of THC. NIK tests are ârudimentary,â as Smith put it, however. They only confirm the mere presence of THC, not the actual amount. The oil, then, was sent to Wyomingâs crime lab for âanalysisâ and Maddux sat in jail for roughly 36 hours. She was released on a $1,000-dollar bond.
Life has already changed for Maddux. To help pay for an attorney, she sold her Toyota Tercel for $550 and is now relying on the generosity of friends to make ends meet. Maddux worries the volunteer and service work that has become a large part of her identity will no longer be an option if she is convicted of a felony. She worked as a disaster relief volunteer in Haiti after its 2010 earthquake and in the Philippines after its 2013 typhoon.
Two weeks after Madduxâs arrest, local and state law enforcement showed up to two local Jackson Hole stores, Luckyâs Market and Jackson Whole Grocer, to inform those store officials that CBD products were illegal to sell if they contained any amount of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. Both stores have since removed those products from their shelves.
Most CBD oil sold in stores like Luckyâs and JWG purport to contain .3 percent (or less) THC, an amount that does not have mind-altering effects as outlined in the 2014 federal Farm Bill. Third party lab analysis obtained by Planet Jackson Hole shows that Madduxâs CBD oil was under that threshold at .06 total THC.
Indeed, as other states loosen cannabis laws and federal lawmakers sponsor legislation to do the same, Wyoming remains a dubious place to possess a hemp-derived product with even trace amounts of THC. It is a felony offense in Wyoming to sell, buy or possess more than .03 grams of CBD oil that contains any amount of THC.
The FDA just approved CBD in Epidiolex, but the DEA still says it’s an illegal Schedule I substance.
However, manufacturers maintain that if their product contains traces of up to .3 percent it is perfectly legal, sowing confusion for state residents and retailers.
Luckyâs did not return several requests for comment, nor did the attorney representing Functional Remedies, Garrett Graff of Hoban Law Group.
CBD is a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis plants with a slew of reported health benefits. The Food and Drug Administration just approved it to treat epilepsy in the form of the new drug Epidiolex. (Wyoming does allow people with intractable epilepsy to use CBD oil under the care of a licensed neurologist.)
Cannabidiol may also treat everything from Alzheimerâs disease and Parkinsonâs to depression, anxiety, inflammation and pain, according to the World Health Organization. The WHOâs Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recently determined that CBD âexhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.âÂ
It seems more of CBDâs potential health benefits are emerging by the day. According to aÂ studyÂ published July 30 in Nature, mice with pancreatic cancer that were treated with CBD and chemotherapy lived three times longer than mice treated with chemotherapy alone.
Despite the WHOâs recent findings, in the United States, CBD is a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning the federal government does not recognize its medicinal uses and considers it to have a high likelihood for abuse.
That classification hasnât stopped its proliferation.
CBD oil has fueled a multimillion dollar industry online and at health food stores across the country. In September 2017, the retail giant Target was the first mega-chain to dip its toes into the cannabidiol waters. It wasnât a pioneer for long, though. It pulled the products from its online shelves after just a few weeks. One month later, Luckyâs made the leap, becoming the first chain natural grocer to carry CBD products.
So why are mom and pop health stores and some chain retailers carrying the products if they are illegal?
Barbara Carreno, DEA spokesperson
For one thing, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration hasnât been shy about its indifference.
âWhile CBD currently is still Schedule 1, with our limited resources marijuana has not been our highest priority,â Barbara Carreno, a spokesperson for the DEA, told Planet Jackson Hole. âIt is not a priority like opioids or synthetics which are killing people.â
Whatâs more, Carreno said everything could change when the DEA schedules Epidiolex for medical use on September 24. A plant or botanical could have both uses that are legal and safe and uses that are not, Carreno said. As an example, she pointed to the opium poppy: âyou get heroin and oxycodone from that.â
Marijuana, meanwhile, âis a plant with many extracts, THC is one and CBD is another,â she said. âCBD has a small amount of THC but it is very, very low.â
But the overarching reason manufacturers are producing and selling these products en masse is because of the 2014 Farm Bill. That bill legalized the production of hemp under state pilot programs as long as those hemp products contain less than .3 percent THC.
Wyoming actually has a legal hemp program, slated to begin next year.
Under the Farm Bill, 40 states have legalized hemp programs including Wyoming. ItsÂ program is slated to begin in 2019. That confuses matters because as Wyoming works to implement a hemp cultivation program, it is still illegal to sell or possess hemp products in the state if they contain THC.
The federal program has some legal experts arguing Maddux wasnât in the wrong. âAs long as hemp was grown as part of a state pilot program (like Madduxâs Functional Remedies CBD oil) then it is federally legal,â said Jonathan Miller, general counsel to the U.S. Hemp Roundtable. That means Maddux âis allowed to take it across state lines,â he said.
Miller called Madduxâs case âunprecedented.â To his knowledge, it is the first time someone faces charges for carrying a vial of CBD oil. He pointed to cases where people have been arrested for possession of both marijuana and CBD. The âCBD was thrown out,â he said.
Wyoming cannabis law, Miller continued, is confusing. âIt is quite unfortunate law enforcement would take that confusing law and charge someone for having a product that has virtually no THC and which the World Health Organization has classified as harmless,â he said. âI would hope law enforcement was focusing instead on drugs that kill people.â
On the national stage, Congress is moving in a direction that would remove hemp (cannabis containing less than .3 percent THC) from its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance. Sen. Mitch McConnellâR, Kentucky, is leading that charge with the 2018 Hemp Farming Act. It handily passed in the Senate 86-11 on June 28.Â
In Congress, the Republican-led farm bill would remove hemp’s Schedule I status. It’s already passed the Senate.
Wyoming, though, is fond of bucking national trends, especially when it comes to cannabis. The state has a tight grip on cannabis laws even as public opinion swings drastically in the other direction.
For example, more than 80 percent of Wyomingites say they want to see the legalization of medicinal marijuana and 60 percent oppose jailing people for marijuana offenses, according to a 2016 survey by the University of Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center.
Jackson Whole Grocer herbalist Heather Olson agrees with those sentiments. She also believes in CBDâs long list of supposed health benefits and was unhappy to remove products from the shelves. But Olson said there is a problem with certain companies. She said officials from Wyomingâs Division of Criminal Investigation told her some of the products they tested carried higher levels of THC than what was indicated on the label.
But Wyomingâs crime labâwhere DCI tests substancesâcannot actually test for specific amounts of THC.Â
Local law enforcement has been in contact with Wyomingâs Division of Criminal Investigation since fall 2017 when Luckyâs and Jackson Whole Grocer began carrying CBD oil. Jackson Chief of Police Todd Smith âreached out to us and asked us for some help because these products were being sold,â said Ronnie Jones of DCI. âThen we discovered this was going on across the state.â
Jim Whalen, Teton County Sheriff
Since then, Jones said DCI has been visiting retail stores and conducting investigations to confirm whether those CBD products contain THC.
Local law enforcement says as long as state law dictates it, they will enforce CBDâs prohibition. âI am duty-bound to uphold those laws,â Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen said. âClearly, if we were to talk philosophy, I might talk differently,â he added.
Whalen did not seem convinced Madduxâs felony charge would stick. He suspected it would be pleaded down and pointed to his departmentâs lenient proclivities. âIn terms of misdemeanors, we would prefer to write a citation and send people on their way, which is different than many municipalities.â
Law enforcement is indeed âduty-boundâ by laws set forth by the Wyoming Legislature. But cannabis advocates, like Laramie attorney and Wyoming House Minority Whip Charles PelkeyâD, Laramie, point to the stateâs law enforcement as a barrier to softening cannabis laws.
Wyoming Rep. Stan BlakeâD, Green River, âhas introduced bills to make CBD oil readily available but we have gotten opposition from the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police that any THC is a violation of the law,â Pelkey said.
It is true that sheriff and police associations throughout the country have pushed back against cannabis laws. Some point to Coloradoâs rising crime rates since that state legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, though it is unclear if the two are related. Police Chief Smith said the notion that sheriffs and chiefs could hold that type of sway in the Legislature is absurd. âLaw enforcement inherits the law from the Legislature,â he said. âWe may get to testify our professional opinion but for any legislator to blame it on us is a cop out.âÂ
The state sheriffs association has actively lobbied against all forms of cannabis reform, including medical marijuana.
The WyomingÂ Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Policeâs stance on this issue, though, is hard to overlook. It actively lobbies the Wyoming Legislature against cannabis reform, including medical marijuana. The statewide interest group heads a campaign called âThere is no Debate,â that holds community events and works with lawmakers and community leaders to propagate its anti-cannabis messaging throughout Wyoming.
Its website warns that âmany adults are also unaware of how marijuana harms lives, and are confused by misinformation on perceived benefits of medical use of marijuana.â
Medical professionals, on the other hand, often have different feelings about medical marijuana and its potential uses. On Harvard Medical Schoolâs health blog,Â Dr. Peter Grinspoon acknowledged that medical marijuana is a subject of debate among doctors, researchers, policymakers, police and the public. But, he said CBD falls into its own category.
âLeast controversial is âŚ CBD because this component of marijuana has little, if any, intoxicating properties,â Grinspoon wrote. âCBD-dominant strains have little or no THC, so patients report very little if any alteration in consciousness. Patients do, however, report many benefits of CBD, from relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy.â
Back in Montana (where medical marijuana and CBD products happen to be legal), Maddux is biding her time caring for her ailing mother and going to job interviews. She does not dispute the reason why she was initially pulled over, which had nothing to do with CBD oil. But she reflecting more deeply about her experience with the law.Â
Part of her past volunteer work involved offering yoga instruction to inmates in Oregon prisons. Madduxâs experience in Jackson has her wondering about some of those inmates and their predicaments. In other words, had she lacked the resources and life experience to question what happened and obtain a lawyer, Maddux said she could have slipped through the cracks of the legal system.
While local law enforcement seems confident a felony will not stick on her record, Maddux said in the meantime she agonizes about her August 16 hearing. Her life, she said, âhas been thrown into upheaval.â