Bill Downing faces 8 counts of drug distribution charges.

Metro File

A clerk magistrate has decided to let the case against Bill Downing, a marijuana activist facing drug charges, go forward.

Downing is accused of selling marijuana from a storefront in Allston.

He insists the products he was selling – called cannabidiol, or CBD, oils - were derived from hemp and contain no, or negligible amounts of the active chemical in marijuana, THC.

“It seems an awful shame that Boston Police are continuing to waste their and the court's precious resources trying to pin me for selling CBD products, which cannot be used as drugs, have nothing to do with drug abuse and are legally sold all around the city, the state and across the nation,” Downing said in an email to Metro. “It is certainly immoral and, hopefully, illegal for Boston Police to use their resources to try to intimidate me so as to stop my cannabis law reform activities. Both their attempted prosecution and their attempted intimidation are doomed to fail.”


Police do not comment on ongoing investigations, department spokeswoman Rachel McGuire said.

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CBD oils aresold online and marketed as a remedy for ailments, among them epilepsy and anxiety. Downing and other proponents argue that their low, or absent, THC content means selling the oils does not violate drug laws. That assertion hasn't been tested in state court -Downing appears to be the first person in Massachusetts to face charges for selling or using the products.

In 2014, an undercover police officer bought oils from Downing’s shop CBD Please, which tested positive for trace amounts of THC, Downing's lawyer has said.

Police later acted on warrants and searched his store and home, seizing products and cash. Downing has said police conducted the search and seizure in SWAT gear.

Downing has received summonses for seven counts of distribution of a Class C substance and one count for distribution of a Class D substance, said John Swomley, Downing’s lawyer. He is not facing charges for other hemp-derived products he sold, including creams and shampoo.

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In an interview, Swomley reiterated claims that Downing’s customers did not use his products to get high.

“You can not get high with anything they charged him with. You can’t. Its just not possible,” he said.

By Swomley's description, a jury may have to decide whether CBD contains "perceptible" amounts of the high-inducing agent THC, making sales of it illegal.

Downing is due in court March 3, and Swomley said he expects Downing to plead not guilty.

Medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts for those with a doctor-issued ID card. The state could legalize full recreational use of marijuana this year via a question on the November ballot. The state decriminalized posseession of small amounts in 2008.

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