Local hemp growers and CBD stores are welcoming the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s move in late July to tighten industry regulations — but some are wary the agency may overreach.
In late July, the FDA warned one CBD company that claimed its unapproved cannabidiol (CBD) products had major health benefits, such as the ability to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and pain, as well as anxiety in pets. The FDA also shared that it's expediting work to "address the many questions about CBD." Local growers and sellers say they support these initiatives, but are concerned the FDA may end up limiting the industry.
Local hemp farmer Robert Butler said he supports further regulations to clarify what businesses can and can’t do in the industry.
“When you go to the grocery store, you can count on your food being safe. But there is no regulation or oversight (of CBD) right now,” Butler said. “And the worst-case scenario is going to make people question the whole industry and whether it's worth it at all.”
The crackdown comes as the CBD market rapidly expands in the U.S.: It could top $23 billion by the mid-2020s, according to reporting from Forbes. Health claims of CBD products — which are sold as gummies, lotion, pills and much more — include its ability to alleviate pain, anxiety and opioid withdrawal symptoms.
But only one product has been approved by the FDA for medical use. The agency approved Epidiolex in 2018 to treat seizures resulting from two severe and rare forms of epilepsy, according to the FDA's website.
CBD, although also extracted from a hemp plant, is distinct from marijuana. It doesn’t have a high enough level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — no more than the FDA-established level of 0.3% — to cause mind-altered effects like those associated with marijuana use.
Craig Sutherland, who manages Sutherland CBD locations in Duluth and Superior, said he hopes the FDA pushes out “phony companies” with its upcoming regulations. Some businesses don’t accurately label the amount of CBD in their products, he said.
Another local hemp farmer, Nicolette Slagle, is supportive of the FDA’s move, which she said was bound to happen with a growing industry.
“I do know that there are companies out there that are selling things that may not have been tested for their strength or that they're using extraction methods that may be harmful,” she said. “There has to be a way to monitor those kinds of things and control those kinds of things.”
Neither farmer will change their upcoming hemp harvesting and/or processing plans because of upcoming regulations, and Sutherland said none of his business operations will change either. They all said they already vet who they work with and have done sufficient product research.
While she's not making changes, Slagle said she's being especially careful to keep medical claims off her product's packaging. She's already started creating the product marketing material, as her plants will be ready to harvest in October from a farm just north of Duluth.
Butler said he hopes the FDA doesn’t go too far with new regulations, But he said there needs to be some regulations.
Some sellers market their products as a cure-all, which may lead to the strict rules and a loss of credibility — ultimately hurting the market, Butler said.
“Part of the problem is it might gain a reputation as a snake oil, where people are starting to claim it cures everything,” he said. “If you make those kinds of claims, you're gonna lose all your credibility and then the demand is going to drop.”
As the FDA develops guidelines, Slagle’s only fear is that small farms will be left on the wayside.
“There's a lot of people that are looking to make a lot of money off of it,” she said. “That's kind of my fear is that these corporations ... are going to be at the table when it comes to writing these regulations and make things more in favor of them versus smaller producers.”
Sutherland said he’s wary of big pharma influencing the FDA as new regulations are developed, but ultimately thinks they will be a good thing for the CBD industry. “As long as they make (regulations) fair, I’m OK with it.”