Cannabis for Animals? California Might Allow Veterinarians to Do More Than Talk About It

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California veterinarians eager to recommend cannabis to animals got word earlier this month that a bill slowly making its way through the state legislature aimed at making the practice legal has made it past a key roadblock.  

In a compromise, the California Veterinary Medical Board agreed to reverse its opposition to the bill—Senate Bill 627—as long as amendments including funding for additional research into the safety of cannabis use on animals gets written into the bill. 

Mike Sharif, legislative director for the bill’s author, Senator Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat from Stockton, told Cannabis Wire last Thursday that the senator’s office had not yet officially taken the board’s suggested amendments, but it could happen. “We may very well be taking them but we haven’t confirmed yet,” he said. The bill will be considered in the 2020 legislative session. 

SB 627 would expand on landmark legislation signed by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2018 that positioned California as the first state to allow veterinarians to discuss medical cannabis with pet owners. That 2018 bill, Assembly Bill 2215, barred the California Veterinary Medical Board from disciplining veterinarians, including revoking or suspending their license, for discussing the use of cannabis with pet owners.

But the 2018 Assembly bill only allowed for the conversation, not the ability for veterinarians to recommend cannabis. Galgiani’s bill would change that.

“What’s happening now is pet owners are either doing research on the internet or hearing from a friend or just taking advice from people at cannabis dispensaries,” Sharif said.

The new bill could set a precedent nationwide, earning California the title as the first state to embrace cannabis as a legitimate treatment for animals. 

Under the bill, veterinarians would still be blocked from prescribing cannabis to animals under California’s health and safety code, as well as under federal law, Michelle Cave, spokeswoman for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, told Cannabis Wire. “This bill would not change that prohibition on prescribing,” she said.

(To learn more about the legal difference between a recommendation and a prescription when it comes to cannabis, check out Cannabis Wire’s resource page on the issue.)

In a letter dated August 16, the Veterinary Medical Board acknowledged that medicinal cannabis “may have potential health benefits to animals,” yet argued for the need for more funding for research on cannabis’ effects on animals, pointing out that cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level.

The bill would require the medical board to consult with the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research out of the University of California, San Diego, to draw up guidelines for veterinarians to follow in recommending cannabis to their animal patients.

The board would have until Jan. 1, 2022 to adopt the guidelines and post them on its website. Dr. Igor Grant from the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research is quoted in the Veterinary Medical Board’s letter as saying that the Center has “not done any studies on the efficiency of cannabis on animals,” but is open to beginning if the necessary funding was provided. 

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, a Republican representing California’s High Desert, voted against SB 627 as a member of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, but not for fiscal or ideological reasons, he told Cannabis Wire. Obernolte said that last year he voted for AB 2215, the bill that allowed veterinarians to discuss cannabis without fear of retribution. That law requires the Board to construct guidelines no later than January 1, 2020 for veterinarians to use in their practice and post on their websites. As of Thursday, the board has not released guidelines.

“I feel it is premature to pass further legislation until the board has issued the guidelines we already asked them to prepare,” he said.

Cave said this week the board was on track toward meeting that deadline.

Sharif said new amendments were not drawn up in time for a state Assembly committee hearing set for August 21. So Galgiani decided to pull the bill until the next legislative session resumes in 2020, Sharif said. Galgiani’s office will continue working with the Veterinary Medical Board in the coming months.

“The bill isn’t dead,” Sharif said. “It’s just on hold.” 

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