DOJ ruling creates further controversy regarding CBD oil
By NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
A recent memo from the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has brought statewide attention to cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a controversial compound derived from hemp plants that is widely purported to help treat epilepsy, pain and anxiety.
The Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center (WSIC), a division of the DOJ, issued an analytical note to law enforcement on April 27 unequivocally stating that CBD oil products, with or without tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are illegal to possess or distribute without a doctor’s certification.
While the note did not alter existing legislation, it provided clarity on what some have described as “gray areas” in current understanding of existing Wisconsin legislation.
Wisconsin legislation signed in 2014 and 2017 allows for the use of non-psychoactive medical CBD oil products with a doctor’s prescription. The Congressional 2014 Farm Bill permits states to legalize the growth of industrial hemp for research purposes; Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin’s industrial hemp pilot research program into law in 2017, which legalizes the growth of industrial hemp in accordance with state regulations.
Some Wisconsin retailers have interpreted those laws as permitting the manufacture and sale of non-regulated CBD oil.
The news has taken retail stores by surprise in the past week, with Merrill police paying a visit to the Golden Harvest store in Merrill to ensure the products were taken off the shelves, according to supplement manager Rebecca Mutter in Golden Harvest’s Rhinelander location.
Mutter said the products have been used by Golden Harvest customers to help treat arthritic and nerve pain, seizures in children, anxiety and bipolar issues, among others, prompting tears from some customers upon its removal from the store’s shelves. “People are very, very upset,” she noted.
“We’re working to advocate toward a safe and affordable place – legal, safe, and affordable,” Jenny Hayek of Natural Living in Antigo noted, adding that moving toward compliance with local law enforcement. “There’s a lot of upset people that have come to rely on it, especially our disabled community and our veterans.”
The DOJ note was unambiguous in its intent, stating that “consumers, store owners, law enforcement and prosecutors should be informed both of the illegality of CBD, and of the dangers non-regulated products sold in stores as pure CBD pose to customers.”
Penalties range from a forfeiture with a $200 fine for possession of CBD without THC, to a Class E Felony for distribution of CBD containing THC, which carries a $50,000 fine and/or up to 15 years in prison.
The memo follows on the heels of the application process for farmers interested in growing industrial hemp, the plant from which CBD oil is extracted. The DOJ memo explicitly states that while growing the plant for research purposes is in accord with the pilot program, it is still illegal for farmers to use their plants for the extraction or distribution of CBD oil.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst said the issue had many gray areas and layers of complexities. “I do hope we can get to a good place,” he added, saying he believed it could prove a good alternative to prescriptive opioids.
“I believe the two authors of the bill are meeting with the Department of Justice to talk about their legislative intent,” Tiffany said. “Ultimately what I’m hoping here is that the authors of the industrial hemp bill are going to be able to share their legislative intent with the Department of Justice, and they’re going to be able to find an agreement as far as how this can be utilized.”
Attorney General Brad Schimel also released a letter following the notice, supporting the DOJ’s statements and reinforcing the illegal status of CBD products.
“Law enforcement has encountered examples of products claiming to be CBD oil that resulted in people getting hurt and sick,” he noted.
PriceLand Hemp Growers in Black River Falls, the first all-hemp store to open in Wisconsin a few weeks ago, stated on its social media page that it had “been in contact with all congress bill authors and we will have a resolution soon.”
Through its social media channels, the store has posted several times in opposition to the attorney general’s stance on the issue, as declared in his letter. Also stated is that the store received support from Rep. Treig Pronschinske of Mondovi, when he visited PriceLand Hemp Growers May 3.
“Mutter said that some CBD oil companies have cut off sales to Wisconsin retailers. However, other manufacturer/suppliers such as CV Sciences are taking a different approach.
CV Sciences, a brand that was portrayed in the DOJ’s note, supplies 47 stores throughout Wisconsin. A spokesperson for the Las Vegas-based company noted their products came from “legally grown and processed hemp.” “Those laws are about CBD; we make hemp extract,” he said.
According to the company’s website, their products are created from hemp-derived CBD, a substance identified as illegal in the DOJ’s notice. The spokesperson cited it as legal under federal law, and said he believed the note was a “bad interpretation of the law.”
Mutter hopes to see the law addressed soon, citing a similar process in Indiana. Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana legalized CBD oil products containing no more than 0.3 percent THC in March, to take effect this July, following a period of similar confusion regarding its legality.
Editorial Note: Naomi Kowles manages a sub-company for the owner of natural foods store Golden Harvest, but is not affiliated with its supplement department in any way. Information contained in this article was collected independently of the company while functioning as a freelance journalist for the Star Journal, and is not intended to represent the views of or speak for Golden Harvest.