Racing to keep up with swelling demand for cannabidiol (CBD) products, consumers, doctors, retailers and government officials are spending more time and money on an evolving industry thatâ€™s mesmerizing patients seeking relief from chronic anxiety, pain and inflammation.
The questions â€” medical, legal and its general makeup â€” are confusing and debatable. Throw in the different state laws on the latest hot new product and it’s difficult to separate myth from reality.
In Palm Beach County, Patrick Riley’s Boynton Beach store that opened in March is one of the latest to exclusively sell CBD products. Your CBD Store now lists more than 300 nationwide locations, and it offers products from hemp-derived creams to oils to lip balms, which also cram wellness hubs and shops.
But the products are not actually legal under Florida law.
Federal law allows them, but Florida has not legalized CBD products sold outside medical marijuana dispensaries â€” yet. For now, the supposed cannabis cure-all is largely unregulated and acceptance has varied across municipalities. The governor is expected to sign a state bill into law, legalizing CBD products derived from hemp, like Riley’s.
As states scramble to catch up with the federal law, law enforcement has generally bypassed cracking down on the products.
â€śI think weâ€™re in the right place with the right product,â€ť Riley said. â€śIt seems very commonplace.â€ť
Therein lies some of the confusion. Just outside Disney Worldâ€™s Magic Kingdom in April, deputies arrested a 69-year-old great-grandmother for carrying CBD oil, even with a doctorâ€™s note that said it was for her arthritis.
The laws and the products are moving so fast it’s hard to keep everything straight.
Medical: What’s in the stuff?
CBD is the chemical compound found in marijuana and hemp, two plants in the cannabis species. CBD is not psychoactive and wonâ€™t get people high, unlike THC, a compound wrung from the same species. By definition, hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent THC, so CBD products on the market are all, in theory, derived from the hemp plant because non-medical marijuana is still illegal in most states.
Most CBD products have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But the FDA is moving quickly. It held its first public hearing on CBD on May 31 in an effort to catch up to the wave of products, but warns research on CBD and its implications for public health falls short.
Ned Sharpless, acting FDA commissioner, said although â€śweâ€™ve seen an explosion of interest in CBD, there is still much that we donâ€™t know.â€ť
After the May hearing, former FDA Associate Commissioner Peter Pitts, also the president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said he remains skeptical that good data could back up some studies and stories he has heard.
“The consequences for human health can be really profound,” he said. “You can’t put profits ahead of public health.”
No matter. The industry is booming and isn’t slowing down. Outlets eluding Big Pharma stamp â€śCBDâ€ť on windows and social media threads burst with proclamations of civilian expertise.
When Bob Benjamin, a Boca Raton resident, tried CBD samples on a whim, he claimed they helped extinguish his sciatica gripes and spared him from an epidural. He quells flare-ups with an extra half dose.
â€śIt sounds bizarre,â€ť he conceded. â€śI really think that CBD has given me a general overall feeling of well being.â€ť
But for Gabriela Carelli, who also lives in Boca, CBD gummies and oils she picked up from a health food store didnâ€™t calm her aches or stress symptoms.
â€śMaybe Iâ€™m crazy. Maybe Iâ€™m not,â€ť she said. â€śI didnâ€™t sleep any better. I didnâ€™t have less pain.â€ť
Based on who is asked, what products theyâ€™ve used and where they live, CBD is a lifesaver or a waste of money, available for use or restricted.
Legal: Like pot, different states mean different laws
After the 2018 Farm Bill stripped a decades-old federal ban on industrial hemp, the Florida legislature on May 3 gave the state the go-ahead to craft a program for the crop.
Holly Bell, Floridaâ€™s cannabis director, said in a June 7 video update, â€śWeâ€™re on the verge of creating a whole new hemp economy with billions in economic potential.â€ť She said the department wants to â€śget this rightâ€ť with its goal to â€śestablish these rules as quickly as possible while ensuring the right due diligence.â€ť
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says it will hold public rule-making workshops June 20, 21 and 24 â€” the first at Broward College â€” before delivering a state hemp program proposal to Governor Ron DeSantis for signing, slated to become law July 1.
After the program is signed and rules are made, Floridia farmers, patients and retailers can lawfully grow, purchase and sell hemp-derived CBD products.
But until then, Florida law says CBD products are not legal, technically outlawing the sale of any cannabis products outside medical marijuana treatment facilities. Itâ€™s not an issue police in the county often touch.
Enforcement of the CBD industry is deferred to local levels. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says â€śenforcement has been varied around the state, with some local law enforcement taking action against the most egregious violators.â€ť
In Sarasota in February, police went as far as to plot a crackdown on CBD products, but they canned the plan in April to await the stateâ€™s finalization of regulations.
For Boca Raton, the cityâ€™s police department is â€śnot routinely monitoring stores,â€ť according to a police spokesperson, â€śbut we would investigate any complaints of illegal activity.â€ť
A Jupiter Police spokesperson said it enforces Florida law and would investigate any complaints.
A West Palm Beach Police Department spokesperson said their “primary focus is investigating fentanyl and other dangerous scheduled substances that are killing people or supporting organized crime.”
Meanwhile, Boynton Beach police staff received direction, effective June 1, specific to medical marijuana, which requires a card. Florida voters supported smoking medical marijuana in a 2016 constitutional amendment and DeSantis reversed a ban on it March 18.
The BBPD’s document does not specify how to handle CBD products obtained without authorization but does outline protocol for medical marijuana: Authorized patients can smoke it, except in public places, vehicles or private properties opting for restrictive rules.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services urges CBD products sold across the state now are â€śunregulated, untested and without standards.â€ť The department has not sent cease-and-desist letters to companies marketing products that could be unsafe, but might do so once the hemp program is effective.
Adding to the confusion: The FDA sent at least three letters this year, to retailers in Fort Lauderdale, Mount Laurel, N.J., and Vancouver, Wash., whose unapproved products classified as drugs.
“I guess we will see what the state does as a regulatory entity,” said Michael Edmondson, executive assistant in the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office.
Economic: How high can it all go?
The Brightfield Group projected the nation’s entire cannabis market may hit $22.7 billion through 2023. The eastern U.S. will then account for 34 percent of the market, the group projected.
Florida consumers and retailers aren’t waiting to cash in.
CBD franchises have opened shop throughout the state, including Daytona Beachâ€™s Purely CBD and Delray Beachâ€™s CBD American Shaman.
Jerrilynn Mann Goler, a saleswoman for CBD American Shaman, says the Delray store has plans to expand in Palm Beach County. She said she uses the storeâ€™s hemp-derived products to help with sleep, instead of relying only on Temazepam.
â€śWe just wanna help people,â€ť Mann Goler said.
The county also has four Your CBD Store locations: Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach.
Pat Riley’s hopes to add to his Boynton store with a West Boca location by June 20. He said his Boynton spot reels in five or six daily customers, landing $35,000 to $40,000 in monthly revenues from hemp-derived merchandise.
â€śOur return rate is almost nonexistent,â€ť said Riley, an Army vet and businessman who breathes and munches on CBD products daily to try to curb ADD and ADHD symptoms without popping Ritalin or Adderall.
Riley said while Boca proper shot him down, municipalities like Boynton Beach, notably its mayor, have been receptive to his store.
Boynton Mayor Steven Grant said in April he sees value in hemp particularly for the profit margins and universal uses, from flour and canvas to oils. He didn’t prohibit CBD products in the city.
Riley said his business is in it for the â€ślong haul,â€ť so, â€śthe tighter the laws get, the better itâ€™ll be for us.â€ť
Safety: What do we really know?
CBD is often confused with marijuana or medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana dispenser Trulieve, open in Boynton Beach and by Palm Beach International Airport, derives its products from marijuana, not hemp.
Federally, marijuana is a schedule-one drug with high abuse potential and is not legal. But medical marijuana dispensaries in Florida, one of 33 states to legalize it, have offered cardholders a path to CBD that aligns with state regulations.
The Florida Department of Health Office of Medical Marijuana Use says itâ€™s approved 131 facilities, at least nine in Palm Beach County. As of June 7, the office reported the state has 302,776 qualified patients, 228,000 of whom are active users.
Speaking at a West Palm Beach young professionals Q&A event on CBD on June 5, Jennifer Guthrie, a recommending physician for Trulieve, said if she proposes a patient try medical cannabis, which often includes THC and CBD, she believes itâ€™s â€śthe best viable option.â€ť As for CBD, she says it could offer benefits for patients suffering inflammation, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress, and maybe a host of other conditions.
â€śWeâ€™re still learning a lot,â€ť she said, noting “roadblocks” included misinformation and lacking inter-agency communication. Still, she said, â€śYou walk in, and thereâ€™s CBD everywhere right now.â€ť
Andrew Savin, internal medicine specialist with Bethesda Health Physician Group, said heâ€™s seen CBD quiet nerve pain and muscle spasms, pointing to multiple sclerosis patients.
â€śCBD by itself is very, very safe.â€ť he said. But he agreed research and standards lag behind.
â€śWeâ€™re just breaking through the first layer right now,â€ť Savin said. â€śThereâ€™s no guidelines, in terms of how much and which type.â€ť
Jaime Snarski, an emergency physician at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, said sheâ€™s seen â€śreally very, very few problemsâ€ť with CBD, which could carry potential to soothe anxiety, epilepsy, Crohnâ€™s disease and opioid withdrawal symptoms.
A May 2019 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry concluded CBD has â€śpotential to reduce cue-induced craving and anxietyâ€ť and indicates â€śa strong basis for further investigation.â€ť
That all means, said Snarski, also the Surterra Wellness medical director and an American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association board member, â€śall these things need to be studied much, much more.â€ť
For now, though, discrepancies circulate along with â€śthe legal gray area,â€ť said Marisa Orlandi, co-manager of operations at West Palm Beachâ€™s soon-to-open MedMen dispensary. â€śThatâ€™s why people get different answers.”
For Jim Quinn, who lives in Delray, results from CBD creams and drops came up short. Quinn juggles psoriatic arthritis, a busted ankle and two cracked two cervical vertebrae that spun him through depression bouts.
But, he said, if CBD helps others, so be it.
â€śI would never begrudge anybody from finding relief,â€ť he said. â€śIf CBD helps them, thatâ€™s good for them. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s helped me.â€ť