Several stores in Stark County continue to sell products with cannabidiol despite recent warning it’s illegal.
Several stores in Stark County continue to sell products with cannabidiol â€” a cannabis compound known as CBD â€” but at least one stopped after learning the state considers it illegal.
An Ohio Board of Pharmacy guidance document in late August stated, “All marijuana products, including CBD oil, can only be dispensed in a licensed Medical Marijuana Control Program dispensary.”
Not long after, Raisin Rack Natural Food Market owner Don Caster consulted with attorneys and removed “thousands of dollars of products” from shelves in Canton and Westerville.
“I apologize to all of our customers that we can’t service,” he said.
CBD does not create the intoxicating effects of the cannabis compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Most products are advertised as hemp extracts, containing little to no THC, with a host of health benefits.
What the state says
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy oversees the practice of pharmacy and the legal distribution of drugs. It also is responsible for aspects of the state medical cannabis program, including dispensaries and the registration of patients and caregivers.
The pharmacy board stated that the clarification was in response to “continued questions about cannabidiol (CBD) oil (derived from hemp or derived from marijuana).”
Additional information stated that Ohio law classifies CBD as “marijuana,” which is defined as “all parts of a plant of the genus cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds of a plant of that type; the resin extracted from a part of a plant of that type; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of a plant of that type or of its seeds or resin.â€ť
Grant Miller, a spokesman for the pharmacy board, said current efforts are educational.
“If CBD continues to be sold by pharmacies and pharmacists, the Board may decide to take administrative or criminal action,” he wrote in an email. “Entities that are not licensed by the Board may be referred to local law enforcement.”
There is no expected date for when licensed dispensaries will be open, Miller added.
What locals say
The state clarification on CBD oil has angered and frightened customers and retailers, according to Stark County sellers. Some said the state pharmacy board didn’t clarify much of anything.
“They seem to be saying only hemp products that have CBD oil, so I don’t know whether or not the hemp oils we sell for cooking are included,” Caster said. “They will not give us a clarification as to what the specific guidelines are.”
Caster said Raisin Rack began selling CBD products this spring. The Westerville store hosted an educational CBD seminar just days before news spread about the state advisory.
The state guidance came without warning, Caster said. After years of no apparent regulation of hemp-derived CBD products, it left him “confused and frustrated.”
“We like to run an honest, respectable business, but it’s difficult to do when rules are changed up in middle of stream on us, or at least that’s how I perceived it,” Caster said.
CBD oils, balms, capsules and tea are on display at The Olive Branch Natural Health Food Center on Whipple Avenue NW, where informational pamphlets and posters hang on a wall nearby. Manager Seth Graham said the store began selling them about two years ago.
After media coverage of the state advisory, which Graham criticized for sparking fear and portraying hemp-derived CBD in a way similar to high-inducing cannabis, customers rushed to buy what was available.
“That Saturday was essentially our best business day,” he said.
CBD products, which Graham said are protected by federal law, have been selling strong since. He expects that enforcing the state advisory would lead to legal challenges, forcing Ohio to create laws specifically addressing hemp.
Two of the brands sold at Olive Branch â€” Plus CBD Oil by CV Sciences out of California and Charlotte’s Web by the Stanley Brothers out of Colorado â€” also can be found in the health aisles of two local supermarkets.
Graham said the products sold by Olive Branch are from “industry leaders” whom provide third party test results to consumers. While he disagrees with the state’s assertion that CBD products are subject to Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program, Graham would like more regulations to ensure quality.
“It’s become a big market,” he said.
Because of that, not all CBD products are created equal.
Operators of another local store selling a variety of CBD-infused items echoed Graham’s statements about the legality of CBD, the desire for more quality assurance and the pain relief and other benefits reported by some customers.
What the law says
Purveyors of CBD products often cite the federal Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the “farm bill”) as proof of hemp legalization. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Food and Drug Administration say otherwise.
The bill allowed states to implement programs with universities and state agriculture departments to grow and research “industrial hemp,” defined as cannabis plants with less than 0.3 percent THC. Ohio has no such program.
In Indiana, lawmakers approved legislation in March to end confusion over low-THC cannabidoil. It was legalized, provided the oil contains 0.3 percent THC or less and meets state testing and label requirements, according to the Indianapolis Star. The state has no medical cannabis program.
The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs released an advisory bulletin in May that affirmed CBD products were subject to state medical marijuana laws. It stated that cannabidiol (CBD) is primarily found in the flower, resin and leaves â€” not the seeds or stalk excluded from Michigan’s definition of “marihuana.”
“The term ‘hemp’ is only used in state law as part of the Industrial Hemp Research Act (IHRA). Passed in 2014, the IHRA authorized the growing and cultivating of industrial hemp for research purposes only,” it reads.
Ohio’s reasoning is similar, except the state doesn’t define hemp or make exceptions for non-psychoactive varieties of cannabis.
“They don’t make a distinction,” said Kevin Patrick Murphy, an attorney with the Cleveland law firm Walter Haverfield.
Murphy, who also is a board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio, said CBD products long have been a “gray area.” The state’s advisory makes it clear: It’s illegal.
“The enforcement part of it, I’m not sure how that’s going to work,” Murphy said.
In June, the FDA approved Epidiolex, a seizure drug containing CBD. Also this year, reports indicate the proposed farm bill would remove hemp from the federally controlled substances.
Legalizing hemp nationwide has been discussed “for years and years,” Murphy said. As more and more states establish legal programs, though, the federal government might be pressured to act.
“What happened in Ohio has been happening and, I think, will happen in other statesÂ â€” where the states are going to provide the clarificationÂ â€” because the federal law, it’s murky at best around hemp,” he said.
Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323
On Twitter: @kbyerREP