For years, medical cannabis advocates have struggled to make lawmakers acknowledge the medicinal and therapeutic benefits not just of the marijuana plant as a whole, but also of its active components: cannabinoids like THC and the non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol). CBD especially has been stranded in a legal grey area, with products sourced from hemp enjoying broad legality while marijuana-derived CBD remains illicit. But when Ohio passed its medical marijuana legislation in 2016, advocates succeeded in gaining official recognition of marijuana’s value as a medicine. Instead of having the effect of expanding access to CBD products, however, Ohio’s medical cannabis legislation has made once-legal CBD products mostly illegal. And officials say CBD users could now face criminal charges.
On Monday, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy announced that the state’s medical marijuana law, HB 523, applies to all marijuana-related products, including CBD. Cannabidiol, the board said, falls under the law’s definition of medical marijuana. And this means that all marijuana products including CBD, even if they do not contain THC as is often the case, can only be sold at licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Furthermore, all products must provide the known source and quantity of active ingredients.
The announcement makes clear that the Ohio Board of Pharmacy considers hemp-derived products identical to products sourced from cannabis, even though hemp and marijuana are different. For years, hemp-derived CBD was widely available across Ohio. Shop owners who stocked hemp CBD products said they were becoming very popular, especially among older consumers.
Since they contain no THC, the law did not prohibit CBD products sourced from hemp. It’s only the fact that Ohio now considers CBD to be “medical marijuana” regardless of the source that it has become illegal to buy and sell it outside of a licensed dispensary and to possess it without being a registered medical marijuana patient.
Faced with the possibility of enforcement actions, Ohio’s retailers are selling off their stock of CBD products at a discount. And that has some shop owners frustrated. As cannabis has gone mainstream, the popularity of the non-psychoactive CBD market in health and wellness products has exploded. CBD products were top sellers for some of Ohio’s small business retailers. Now, however, stores in Ohio won’t be able to offer CBD.
And that has raised a couple of major concerns, not just for retailers but for consumers as well. Without a medical cannabis card, it’s unclear whether Ohioans will be able to enter a medical marijuana dispensary to purchase CBD products. It’s also likely that the price on CBD products will increase as dispensaries no longer have to compete with other retailers.
Ohio’s medical cannabis program isn’t improving safe and affordable access to medical cannabis. And the pharmacy board’s announcement doesn’t help matters. Ohio was supposed to have its retail dispensary program up and running on September 8. The state should be on its way to the 58 dispensaries regulators plan to approve. But none are open yet. And now, anyone with CBD could face criminal charges, although the board says it has no plans to pursue enforcement actions.
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