Despite a state ban on the sale of CBD oil, a billboard on Main Street in Akronâ€™s North Hill neighborhood continues to pitch the product for a local health food store.
In August, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy ruled that the sale of CBD oil was banned by Ohio except for by dispensaries created under the stateâ€™s medical marijuana law.
At the time, Akron-area retailers scrambled to remove CBD oil products from their shelves. A few decided to sell what was left in their inventory.
But Seven Grains Natural Market decided to hold fast. Co-owner Gina Krieger says that the CBD oil her Tallmadge store advertises on the billboard isnâ€™t covered by state law. Unless that law changes, Krieger said she is confident sheâ€™s offering a legal product.
â€śWe are completely fine now to sell agriculture hemp-derived CBD,â€ť Krieger said. â€śThereâ€™s no psychoactive compound.â€ť
Krieger said her store has been very cautious about all the products it sells.
â€śWe are very careful that we align ourselves with quality companies across the board,â€ť she said.
CBD oil is extracted from cannabis plants, which may include the marijuana plant or its less controversial cousin, hemp. Users believe the oil relieves pain symptoms, and its popularity has soared in recent years. Forbes magazine estimated last year that about $170 million of CBD oil products were sold in the U.S. in 2016. By 2020, sales are expected to reach $1 billion.
Kriegerâ€™s supplier has dealt with authorities from other states skeptical about its product and has been able to assuage concerns about its legality, she said.
The pharmacy boardâ€™s ruling cited state law to include hemp-derived CBD oil as a substance banned in the Buckeye state. â€śOhio law does not make a distinction between CBD extracted from hemp and CBD extracted from marijuana,â€ť the board argued.
In an online explanation of its ruling, the board included language from state law defining whatâ€™s considered â€śmarijuana,â€ť including â€śall parts of the plant of the genus cannabis.â€ť Because hemp is part of that plant classification, the board decided it could only be sold under the umbrella of Ohio House Bill 523, which was passed to permit the sale of medical marijuana and create a production and distribution network in the state.
The section of law cited by the board, however, contains additional language that excludes â€śthe mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oils or cake made from the seeds of the plant, or any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalksâ€¦â€ť from the stateâ€™s definition of whatâ€™s marijuana and whatâ€™s not.
Dan Tierney, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney Generalâ€™s Office, said that the pharmacy boardâ€™s ruling did not change Ohio law.
â€śIf it contains THC it will very clearly not be legal,â€ť Tierney said. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that produces a â€śhigh.”
Although state law is explicit about whatâ€™s not permitted, Tierney said, the makeup of individual CBD oil products can be a bit murky. The oil can be extracted from hemp seeds, the hemp plant or marijuana plants, and each product has a different composition. To ascertain a productâ€™s THC content, individual products would need to be tested.
â€śPeople need to be aware that CBD oil is a product that can have multiple [variations],â€ť Tierney said.
Because of this, the products are difficult to regulate, and the effects on users can vary.
â€śWe cannot guarantee [CBD oil] is uniform from one product to another,â€ť Tierney said. He cautions consumers who insist on trying CBD oilÂ â€” or any other natural supplement. â€śDo research on the product. Try to verify independent claims.â€ť
Akron Councilman Bruce Kilby, who represents the ward where the billboard is displayed, said in a phone interview last week that he was not aware of the advertisement until alerted to its presence. He called its placement on the north side of the Alcoholics Anonymous Archives building and the Arsenic & Old Lace tobacco shop â€śironic.â€ť
While uncomfortable with the billboard, Kilby said that decriminalization of cannabis products on the federal level should at least be debated. He believes, however, that outright legalization might go too far and encourage greater use.
Still, he said, the billboard should be removed if the product advertised doesnâ€™t comply with Ohio law.
â€śIâ€™m not comfortable with that if itâ€™s illegal,â€ť Kilby said. â€śIt should be pulled down if the billboard company knows this is an illegal product. It should not be allowed to be advertised.â€ť
The billboard is owned by Lamar Advertising Co., whose signage adorns its frame. The company, based in Baton Rouge, La., operates a Cleveland-Akron-Canton division.
A message to the companyâ€™s Akron office was not returned. Messages and an email to the Baton Rouge headquarters were not returned.
City of Akron officials were similarly tight-lipped. The cityâ€™s director of law, Eve Belfance, did not return a message. Mayor Dan Horrigan’s deputy chief of staff Annie McFadden did not return a phone call.
In the meantime, Seven Grains and at least one other local retailer continue to sell CBD oil products. Seven Grains has no plans to pull its product from its shelves, Krieger said.
â€śWe have several customers who have had very good relief from symptoms,â€ť she said. â€śI have registered nurses coming in here buying it.â€ť
Her husband, Dave Krieger, is even more enthusiastic about the benefits of the hemp plant.
â€śHopefully, weâ€™ll see fields of hemp in every state of the union,â€ť he said. The plant has a long history in the U.S., he said, being used in the manufacture of ropes, cloth, paper and other products well beyond CBD oil.
â€śItâ€™s a fantastic commodity,â€ť he said.