Op-ed: Regulation of hemp-derived CBD products misses the mark

The Columbus Dispatch

Products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical compound found in both hemp and marijuana, are widely available in Ohio. Marijuana and hemp are essentially two versions of the same species of plants from the genus Cannabis sativa. However, while marijuana is typically grown to have high amounts of the psychoactive chemical compound tetrahydrocannabinol, hemp is bred to have only trace amounts of THC — certainly not enough to cause a psychoactive effect — and has been historically used to make rope and fabrics. Both plants contain CBD. No one is getting high with hemp-derived CBD products, but the growing awareness of the potential health benefits derived from CBD has fueled sales.

Now the Ohio Board of Pharmacy may end such Ohio sales by declaring that all CBD products, whether extracted from hemp or marijuana, or their lack of THC, can only be sold in a licensed medical marijuana dispensary. Moreover, per the pharmacy board, all CBD products will have to comply with the rules and regulations of the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program. This means that CBD advocates will have to become registered and licensed patients in order to purchase CBD products in Ohio.

The pharmacy board’s position derives from the confusing legal status of marijuana and hemp in the U.S. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level even as 30 states now allow it for medical purposes, and the pharmacy board has included hemp in its definition of marijuana. The commercial production of hemp in the U.S. is also prohibited. In fact, most hemp-derived products being sold in the U.S., including CBD products, are made from imported hemp.

Most significant is the position of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, which has made clear that it considers the production and sale of all CBD extracts to be in violation of federal law and has criticized CBD products as having uncertain and varied content depending on their source.

Despite the federal prohibition, polling demonstrates that there is overwhelming public sentiment to legalize marijuana in the U.S. for medical purposes. At the federal level there is growing support to legalize U.S. commercial hemp production.

The growing popularity of hemp-derived CBD products shows that the public wants these products to be widely available. The inability of the federal government to act on these issues has led the states to ignore federal law and enact their own laws regarding marijuana and hemp. Unfortunately, Ohio did not address the status of non-THC-containing hemp-derived CBD products when enacting its medical marijuana laws.

The pharmacy board seeks to protect Ohio retailers from violating federal law and to protect Ohio consumers from untested and possibly harmful compounds claiming health benefits. However, whether hemp-derived CBD products need to be regulated under the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program is questionable.

Regulating hemp-derived CBD products under Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program will increase costs and limit their availability to registered medical marijuana patients suffering from a limited number of state-approved medical conditions. Moreover, Ohio consumers of hemp-derived CBD products would also need to obtain a recommendation from a doctor before they could purchase any such products.

At the moment there is no market evidence indicating that hemp-derived CBD products are in any way harmful warranting such restrictions. To the contrary, growing anecdotal evidence indicates that consumers are finding relief from such products and that is why their sales and popularity are soaring.

This growing market means that Big Business is getting ready to pour even more money into hemp-derived CBD products. Shutting down businesses selling hemp-derived CBD products, or arresting people in possession of such products, is not warranted, nor is it a good use of state resources.

The better course is to work to change Ohio law and make clear that hemp-derived CBD products can be sold in Ohio outside the Medical Marijuana Control Program so long as they otherwise meet safe consumer standards. The decision of the pharmacy board is a call for CBD advocates to demand legislative action to clarify the status of hemp-derived CBD products in Ohio.