Iowans overwhelmingly support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, but they don’t support allowing recreational uses, an Iowa Poll from 2017 shows. Wochit

It looks like the State of Iowa finds itself facing a sticky wicket when it comes to CBD.

Those three letters — CBD — stand for cannabidiol, which is an agricultural hemp product related to marijuana, that many Iowans believe is legal to sell throughout the state.  Both the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Public Health disagree. 

I suffer from a nerve disease called peripheral neuropathy, with a lot of pain in my lower legs and feet.  The doctors say my disease is idiopathic, meaning they don’t know what causes it.  I’ve tried various non-opioid pain relievers, but nothing has had much effect. 

On the first day of the Iowa State Fair, I was on the second floor of the Ag Building when I came face-to-face with a hemp CBD vendor.  A big sign listed the diseases CBD might have an effect on.  Neuropathy was on the list.  The vendor was doing a land-office business. 

But, before I decided to make a purchase, I figured I’d check CBD out a little more.  I talked to my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Boulder, Colorado.  They both sang CBD’s praises.   My brother has a new knee, which can cause him great pain.  He says he rubs a CBD lotion on it twice a day and the pain is greatly mitigated.  My sister-in-law uses it on arthritis in her hand with the same result.   She says it even calms down the dog.  I heard other endorsements.

That was enough for me.  I returned to the state fair Wednesday, to the second floor of the Ag Building.  But this time, at that same vendor, all references to CBD had vanished.  The vendor said it was because fair personnel had come by on Monday and told her by selling CBDs, she was operating outside her state fair contract.  She had to stop selling CBDs, she said they told her.  So she did and sold only her non-CBD products, which weren’t nearly as popular.

On Thursday, I went to the Valley Junction farmers market in West Des Moines, and there was a hemp CBD vendor, selling the exact same products I’d seen at the fair.  He was doing a land-office business.  I talked to one fellow who had just bought a couple hundred dollars’ worth.  He said it was all because of the pain that wracks his body.  Another man, a truck driver who was only 37, said he was in a lot of pain but had tired of taking scads of acetaminophen, which had little effect.  He said he wanted to give CBD a try.  A woman, who had her credit card out, said her husband, a surgeon, told her CBD was okay for her arthritis. 

And then I visited a health food store in Des Moines and some markets in Ames.  All were selling CBDs, from oils to salves and sprays.  I’m betting there are dozens of similar retail outlets all across Iowa, all doing the same thing.

But the state fair says it was simply following its rule that requires vendors to stick to their contracts and not sell additional products. Fair officials then consulted Department of Public Health, which said that CBD, no matter the source, is illegal to sell in Iowa.

A Department of Public Health memo says no CBD may be sold in Iowa unless it has been manufactured under the health department’s regulatory program.  But rules governing that manufacture have not yet been adopted, and, once that happens, it looks like CBD sales will be tightly controlled by the state.

The CBD vendors, for their part, argue that their products are legal because all  stay beneath the 0.3 percent THC threshold in the 2014 farm bill. THC is the substance that gives the marijuana user the “high,” not CBD.  “You can’t get high on CBD,” say CBD vendors.

Meanwhile, CBD sales across Iowa go on across the state.  Stopping them may be a lot like trying to put the genie back in the bottle. 

Dick Haws is a retired journalism professor from Iowa State University.


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