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Leafly- Atlanta Buyers Club: Inside the CBD Underground in the American South

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STEPHEN PAULSEN
January 24, 2017
Over the past three years, a wave of “CBD-only” laws has swept through the American South. In these deeply conservative states, the laws were seen by many as imperfect workarounds. In theory, they would keep marijuana illegal while allowing patients—mostly children with debilitating seizures—to use non-psychoactive, low-THC cannabidiol (CBD) oil. But in most CBD-only states, making or selling the oil remains illegal—and it’s still against the law to grow cannabis, which is the only source of CBD oil.
In the South, parents must rely on clandestine connections and untested products to calm their kids' seizures.
Some politicians praised the laws as commonsense, bipartisan measures. Others were skeptical from the start. Since most CBD-only laws keep distribution illegal, neither the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) nor the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) consider them true medical marijuana programs. Others have criticized the science behind CBD-only laws, arguing that “whole plant” treatments, which rely on THC, CBD, and a host of other cannabinoids to provide an entourage effect, are far more effective. “Unlike other drugs that may work well as single compounds, synthesized in a lab,” Sanjay Gupta has written, “cannabis may offer its most profound benefit as a whole plant.”
I live in Texas, which is about to become a CBD-only state. Texas’s Compassionate Use Act is scheduled to take effect in late 2017. It may allow for cultivation and sale; that has yet to be determined by state officials. With that in mind, I wanted to know how CBD-only laws were working out in other states. Are these laws allowing patients to get the medicine they need?
Atlanta is now a major terminus in the CBD patient underground.
To answer that question, I spent months getting to know patients and caregivers across the South. I traveled to Colorado to meet a producer who supplies Southerners with high-CBD, low-THC products. I met patients and suppliers in Atlanta, which has become a major terminus in the CBD patient underground. Instead of finding patients helped by a safe, robust CBD-only market, I found a region where fearful parents still must rely on clandestine connections and untested products to keep their children healthy. In the South, CBD-only laws seem to protect mostly the re-election prospects of those politicians too timid to create true medical cannabis programs.

In most medical marijuana states, patients and caregivers can pick up cannabis products at dispensaries. But in CBD-only states, the search for relief leads people to places not often associated with medicine. For example: a gas station parking lot.
That’s where Georgia resident Rebecca (not her real name(, whose 15-year-old daughter suffers from seizures, says she found herself one afternoon last fall. She pulled up to a gas station on Moreland Avenue, in a seedy part of east Atlanta. In her silver SUV sat an ounce of black-market cannabis, tucked away in a Target bag.
One mom gave cannabis to another after stopping by a birthday party.
Rebecca, a former police officer, is registered as a CBD caregiver in Georgia. She parked at the gas station to rendezvous with another mom. The two met through a Facebook group for cannabis patients. Rebecca knew the mom wasn’t registered with the state, but that didn’t faze her. “I couldn’t sleep at night if I know somebody needs help, and I have the access, and I say, ‘No, sorry,’” she told me over the phone. “I think it’s bullshit that you can’t get medicine for your loved one because they don’t qualify.”
Rebecca waited for a few minutes at the gas station. Another car pulled up, and Rebecca climbed in. “I don’t know if this works,” she admitted as she handed the bag to Jennifer Conforti. Conforti, who was coming from a children’s party, offered Rebecca a slice of birthday cake.