Across Washington state, consumers can walk into a gas station or a grocery store and find a wide assortment of products that tout the benefits of CBD for health and wellness. These CBD-only products, derived from hemp, cover a broad spectrum, from doggy treats to lotions and capsules. But their health claims are not vetted for accuracy because neither labeling or testing on these products are required under state or federal law, even as consumer interest in them explodes.
Ironically, the robust regulatory system for cannabis in our state — including licensed stores where you must be 21 or older to enter — prohibits these highly regulated businesses from selling CBD-only products. While regulated stores might offer products containing a significant amount of CBD, these products currently are required by the state to include some level of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that for most people creates a high.
The Washington ballot measure passed by voters in 2012 to legalize cannabis required that cannabis retailers offer products with at least 0.3% THC. But some consumers don’t want the high from THC, preferring just CBD, which is absent the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
As we work to strengthen the regulatory framework around cannabis, we also see an opportunity to make public safety a consistent priority throughout the system. We should insist CBD-only products are accountable for dosage and content, and allow licensed, regulated cannabis businesses accustomed and expert on such measures to offer these products in their regulated stores.
As states moved to legalize marijuana, the marketplace quickly responded, given the cannabis plant has its many uses. Some of its properties chemically affect the human body, other traits are used for their physical benefits — durability of plant fibers in fabric, for example. In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Farm Bill, which removed CBD from the controlled-substances list. This is a positive development in the reevaluation of the cannabis plant, and the heightened interest in CBD products that followed is a result of opening a market that also has freed farmers to consider new opportunities.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature created a commercial hemp program, thus authorizing Washington-grown hemp and the processing of hemp into CBD. Yet, the FDA has not yet officially established testing requirements for these products, enabling an unregulated gray market for CBD products.
Nationwide, CBD is unmonitored and untested for quality, purity or dosage. Currently no one — consumer, regulators or public-health officials — know what is actually being offered and sold. In Washington, the licensed cannabis industry, arguably the more qualified experts on CBD and its benefits, is forbidden from selling it. We can and should fix this.
Licensed cannabis retailers should be able to sell CBD-only products that are tested in alignment with THC products they are currently authorized to sell. This would provide Washingtonians safe and quality-controlled CBD products while the federal government works on regulation. While the FDA crafts its permanent rules structure, CBD-only products should be subject to the same pesticide requirements, potency testing and heavy-metal testing that is required of THC products.
In light of the recent health crisis indicating that it was unregulated vape products containing vitamin E acetate that caused dozens of deaths and sickened thousands of people earlier this year, lawmakers should not hesitate to proactively require measures in favor of public health for CBD products, as well.
The FDA should move swiftly to codify regulations that protect consumers. Until then, Washington lawmakers should allow regulated businesses to offer CBD-only products. Consumers should be assured that a regulated professional with a foundation of knowledge on CBD-only products, and versed in product purity and safety, is available. Unfortunately, that level of accountability is missing from CBD-only sales today. Our state’s tough regulations, and the people who live by them and enforce them, from the Liquor and Cannabis Board and throughout licensed businesses, are rightfully focused on protecting public health and safety. That system should not fall short when it comes to CBD.
As the industry association representing cannabis business license-holders in our state, we are committed above all to upholding a safe, quality-controlled and regulated marketplace that works to keep cannabis out of the hands of kids.
We are making great strides in normalizing banking practices for the industry and applaud the U.S. House for its landslide bipartisan vote to approve the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, enabling banks and credit-card companies to serve the cannabis industry. The bill is now under consideration in the Senate.
To further align the legal cannabis industry — which has already contributed $1 billion to the state, employing more than 10,000 people — with its peers in our state economy, we also are proposing to remove the residency requirement on access to capital to support local license holders as they invest, compete and incentivize employees, among other standard business practices. This same proposal would also establish a structure to help improve access and create resources within the industry for people of color who choose them. We will continue to seek improvements that strengthen the system by expanding opportunity and ensuring it is as diverse as the people in the communities where businesses exist.