HARRISBURG – While it’s unclear if and when recreational marijuana will be available in Pennsylvania, shoppers in the state are increasingly encountering Cannabidiol, or CBD, oil and related products for sale in stores ranging from natural and health foods retailers to convenience stores and gas stations.
CBD is a compound found in both marijuana and industrial hemp and the products on sale in stores are derived from hemp. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is holding a hearing later this month to weigh how to respond to the rise in demand for CBD products.
While Pennsylvania moved to legalize medical marijuana in 2016 and the state has been debating whether to join the 10 other states that have legalized adult recreational use of marijuana, the increased availability of CBD products isn’t the direct result of any change in state law, agency officials and an industry lobbyist said Thursday.
Last month, both CVS and Walgreens announced plans to begin selling CBD products, but only in a small fraction of the stores in those chains.
The convenience store chain Sheetz on Thursday announced it's going to begin stocking CBD products on store shelves. Sheetz will offer products including topical rubs and patches, tinctures, vape pens, oral pouches, capsules, pet products and more. Two local stores — in Elysburg and Mifflinburg — will offer the products.
“We are excited to be the first convenience store to offer a broad selection of premium CBD products at this magnitude,” said Ryan Sheetz, assistant vice president of brand strategies at Sheetz.
In April, Consumer Reports released the results of a survey that found 1-in-7 people surveyed said they use a CBD product every day and that 40 percent of people in their 20s said they’d used a CBD product.
A big part of the reason for the sudden influx of CBD products is that the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill included language allowing states to regulate hemp production, said Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
While industrial hemp and marijuana are from the same species of plant, industrial hemp contains virtually no tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high.
Products made with CBD have always been legal, but American growers weren’t allowed to raised hemp before the Farm Bill change. As a result, the only CBD products available were from Canada or overseas sources, Powers said.
The Farm Bill changes include removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it while the federal government still considers marijuana illegal, hemp is no longer an illegal substance under federal law, according to an FDA statement. The federal agency is holding a public hearing on the benefits and concerns related to CBD products on May 31.
The FDA statement noted it is still “unlawful to introduce food containing added CBD, or the psychoactive compound THC, into interstate commerce, or to market CBD or THC products as dietary supplements.”
The ban on the use of CBD in food comes because it’s an ingredient in FDA-approved products approved as drugs before CBD began getting marketed as food, according to the agency statement.
But the agency doesn't have the resources to police all the CBD products already available, said Marc Scheineson, a former FDA official told the Associated Press.
"They're not going to pull a thousand products from the market," he said.
Last year, Colorado passed a state law saying CBD could be used as a food product regardless of the FDA’s position on the matter. Legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania state Senate in March would do the same thing.
“My legislation would recognize industrial hemp, including CBD, as an allowable cosmetic ingredient, food, food additive and herb,” state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, said in a memo to other lawmakers seeking support for the bill. “The legislation would mirror a bill (HB1295) that was signed into law in Colorado earlier this year and only apply to products made and sold in Pennsylvania,” she said.
The Schwank legislation would also provide a framework for the state to begin regulating CBD, said Erica McBride Stark, executive director of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council.
One of the big advantages of that would be to provide consumers with assurance that the product actually matches the description on the label, she said. A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 70 percent of CBD products were mislabeled.
Stark said that in some cases, the CBD product contains more THC than the label suggests. The product still wouldn’t contain enough THC to get the individual high, but it could cause them to fail a drug test, she said.
With the Farm Bill update, the number of farmers interested in growing hemp in Pennsylvania has spiked, she said. Pennsylvania had been part of an earlier US Department of Agriculture pilot program for hemp research, Powers said.
The state just closed the application period for farmers interested in growing hemp in 2019 and 330 farms have applied for permission, Powers said. Locations of those farms weren’t immediately available, she said.
But there are also now at least two processing facilities producing CBD products in Pennsylvania, one in Westmoreland County and one in York County.
The state’s medical marijuana program offers a CBD product that is derived from marijuana, said Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the Department of Health. The CBD products on sale over-the-counter are derived from hemp plants, he said.
While the marijuana-based CBD products available to medical marijuana patients have been lab-tested, there’s little oversight over the production of hemp-based CBD products, he said.