Alibi V.28 No.50 • Dec 12-18, 2019 

Baked Goods

CBD: Steaming Hot Contraband

Iowa ups the ante on selling CBD

Baked Goods logo
Rob M.

A CBD store owner in Iowa was arrested for selling controlled substances last week, highlighting continuing issues with the legal status of CBD-infused health products.

According to KCCI in Des Moines, Iowa, police arrested Lacie Navin at the Your CBD Store in Ankeny after receiving a complaint that the shop was selling contraband—namely CBD oil. Navin was charged with multiple felony crimes, including controlled substance violations and unlawful tax stamp violations.

“But CBD is legal,” you might be saying right about now. Well, not exactly.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp by differentiating it from cannabis and removing it from the list of controlled substances. But this didn't legalize hemp-derived CBD, as many lawmakers expected, because the compound is the active ingredient in Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical drug used to treat certain rare forms of epilepsy in children. By law, any compound used as an active ingredient in a pharmaceutical is barred from being sold in over-the-counter remedies, food products or supplements. That means the only CBD-infused products that are still legal to sell are topicals—lotions, creams and gels not meant for consumption.

But this hasn't stopped a gray market from popping up all over the US. Here in Albuquerque, it seems like every shopping center has its own CBD store, and you're likely to find the contraband being sold in head shops, vitamin and health stores and even gas stations. The fact that CBD is non-psychoactive compounded by the overwhelming love that Americans have shown for this compound has put law enforcement officials in a weird spot.

A few weeks ago, the federal Food and Drug Administration warned a handful of companies to stop making unsubstantiated health claims about their products or suffer being shut down. Generally, this seems to be the extent of threats made against CBD stores. As long as companies refrain from making any explicit claims on their packaging, the authorities have been content to look the other way.

So what crawled up the ass of Iowa's law enforcement machine and made it arrest this woman? According to what Polk County Sgt. Heath Osberg told reporters: “Any part of marijuana, whether it's oils or THC or a mixture of the plant itself, any of those is considered marijuana,” Osberg said. “In the state of Iowa, marijuana is illegal.”

It seems Your CBD Store was one of 15 companies to receive a warning letter from the FDA on Nov. 22. The letter said they were selling unapproved and misbranded drugs for people and animals. But the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said that while it was aware of the warning, it hadn't forwarded the notification to any other agencies in the state.

It's interesting that he chose to use the word “marijuana.” Navin owned three franchises of the national Your CBD Store chain. According to the company's site, all of its products are hemp derived. This raises the question of whether Navin was selling products that were known to be sourced from “cannabis,” as the sergeant's comments seem to indicate. This is most likely not the case, but even hemp might still be technically illegal until the US Department of Agriculture approves Iowa's hemp plan.

It seems like a strange spot to raise up a cross and hop up, though. I'm not sure what point the Polk County police were trying to make, but they're dead serious. While Navin was the only arrest (or should I say “the first”?), undercover cops reportedly warned a number of stores in the area to pull CBD products off their shelves or suffer a similar fate. So it seems like Navin's arrest might have been a warning, itself. As to the motivation behind choosing her as the target, I'd nudge the reader toward the handful of local news articles mentioning her by name earlier this year that also happen to mention the illegal status of the compound. If I was a betting man, I'd guess there was some retribution peppered into that warning.

In any case, Iowa appears determined to shoo away prospective residents. I doubt too many people will cry over it. The real worry is that other states will follow suit.

USDA Rushes Hemp Rules

Speaking of hemp-related regulations: The USDA has been pushing ahead with hemp production regulations, and a federal watchdog group says expediency is key.

Marijuana Moment reports that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its assessment of the USDA’s rulemaking process while the department rushed to come up with a final rule on hemp regulation. The department posted the rule on Oct. 31, and opened it up for a public comment period that ends Dec. 31.

The GAO assessment found that the USDA's method for arriving at its rule followed proper protocol and agreed with the agency that the usual practice of waiting 60 days to enact a new rule should be waived unless there’s “good cause that delay is impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”

According to the USDA, it's practical to rush the rule for four reasons: Congress intended hemp to be legalized quickly, numerous stakeholders required critical guidance, the department had collected enough public comments and there is “public interest in expediting the ability of the nation’s farmers to enter the new agricultural market presented by hemp.”

The final rule will allow the USDA to approve hemp production plans submitted by states and Native tribes (like the one Iowa is apparently itching to get approved) and establishes guidelines for testing THC, licensing rules, locating lands where hemp can be grown, disposing of plants that fail to meet requirements and ensuring compliance.

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