California Board Bars Veterinarians from Using Cannabis in Practice

Current California law makes it legal for human patients and their designated primary caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for their personal medical use with the recommendation or approval of a California-licensed physician or surgeon. In addition, the recently passed Proposition 64 “Legalizes marijuana under state law, for use by adults 21 or older.” 

And more and more pet owners are, similarly, turning to cannabis-based products to help their animals with anxiety, arthritis, seizures, cancer and other ailments. And the passage of state Proposition 64 will likely lead to even more pet and animal owners turning to marijuana to dose their pets.

However, there is nothing in California law that allows a veterinarian to participate. Specifically, veterinarians have never been permitted to prescribe, recommend, or approve marijuana or medical cannabis for purposes of treating animals. And although the Veterinary Medical Board does not take a formal position on the matter of marijuana and hemp use on animals, the presumption by the Board is that its use on animals is illegal.

Cannabis Still Illegal Under Federal Law

Federal regulators haven’t approved cannabis for use in animals, and have sent warning letters to producers who claim health benefits.

Specifically, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has ultimate jurisdiction over controlled substances, including marijuana. The DEA has listed cannabis and cannaboid products as Schedule I controlled substances, meaning that these substances have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. And while California disagrees with the DEA's assessment as to human patients, it has not passed any such similar initiative, law, or regulation endorsing the medical use of marijuana or cannabis on animal patients. And the DEA has not given veterinarians the authority to possess, administer, dispense, or prescribe cannabis or cannaboid products.

Furthermore, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that consumers should beware of purchasing and using products containing cannabis for animals. These products have not been approved by the FDA for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of diseases. They also have not been documented as a safe and efficacious remedy by the professional veterinary medical community.

In a letter received by the Board on October 3, 2016, James A. Arnold, Chief, Liaison and Policy Section, Diversion Control Division, Department of Justice, DEA, wrote: “Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) as it has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States – for humans or animals. This is because marijuana has never been proven in scientific studies to be safe and effective for the treatment of any disease or condition.”

What about Hemp?

However, unlike most human-edibles, pet-edibles have only a tiny fraction of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and is made primarily of CBD, another cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp that does not make people or animals high

Under federal law, both CBD and THC are illegal. However, CBD is also found in hemp, which can be legally imported and sold in the U.S. So, most companies that make presently make pet cannabis products are taking advantage of this loophole–by using hemp to produce the pet edible. But this loophole does not provide authority to veterinarians to incorporate the product into their practice or begin prescribing it. 

What if they do it anyway?

From an enforcement perspective, if the Veterinary Medical Board were to receive a complaint related to a Board licensee’s involvement in the treatment of an animal with a marijuana or hemp-related product, the Board would be obligated to conduct an investigation and take appropriate disciplinary action if the findings so warranted. Such use would be a violation of California and Federal law, and would likely be disciplined as such.