Shop owners who sell the noneuphoric cousin of cannabis, called CBD are on pins and needles since the Sarasota Police Department announced an impending crackdown slated for sometime this week on the sale of the product.
SARASOTA — Merchants who sell CBD products within city limits are anxiously awaiting a knock on their door by the police.
Shop owners who sell the noneuphoric cousin of cannabis, called cannabidiol — known more popularly as CBD — have been on pins and needles since the Sarasota Police Department announced an impending crackdown slated for sometime this week on the sale of the product, which comes in various forms, including oils and topical creams. Officers sometime soon are expected to deliver cease and desist notices signed by Chief Bernadette DiPino to stores, including gas stations, grocers and standalone shops that sell the product, derived from hemp plants that contain minuscule levels of THC, the main intoxicating ingredient in marijuana.
The crackdown comes after seven complaints of people recently becoming sick after using the products, police said, adding they did not perform a health assessment on the individuals. Asked by the Herald-Tribune Wednesday for documentation of the nature of the complaints, a police spokesowman emailed, “We do not have any documentation for the complaints.”
Police have not publicly announced a specific date this week when enforcement efforts will begin. They have, however, said stores that fail to comply could have their products yanked from their shelves if they don’t abide by a second warning.
“When it comes to my own feeling and emotions and business, it does make me think about how I can best keep my employees employed as well as what my legal rights are,” said Shelby Isaacson, who co-owns Second and Seed, a shop in downtown Sarasota that sells hemp extract and CBD oil from hemp. Isaacson added patrons have been inquiring about purchasing mass quantities should she have to close.
Another shop owner calls the looming enforcement unnerving and unnecessary.
“The city of Sarasota is the only city in Florida that looks at it as marijuana,” said Joe Griffith, who owns CBD American Shaman on Tamiami Trail. He also manages six other stores in the franchise.
“What they’re doing is taking it away from people who need it. The stuff works,” Griffith added. “And I understand there should be regulation on it. I definitely wouldn’t buy my CBD from a gas station.”
Griffith’s customers are buying in bulk for fear police will shut down his operation, he said.
Police are aware of at least two dozen stores in the city that sell the product, including a few shops that exclusively sell CBD oil and topical cream. At least two shops claimed to undercover officers that their oils had no THC in them, but upon testing by police, THC was found to be present in the product, police said. Using the product, even with trace amounts of THC, could result in a failed drug test, said Mike Harrell, a retired Tampa Police detective who now serves as a civilian investigator in the narcotics unit for Sarasota Police.
In the meantime, Harrell is urging consumers who want or need to purchase CBD oil to buy it from a medical marijuana dispensary — since selling any amount of THC is illegal in the state, he said.
But Isaacson and Griffith argue medical marijuana dispensaries don’t sell hemp-derived products like CBD, since it is not a form of marijuana.
There’s much debate about whether CBD derived from hemp plants is legal. And the answer depends on whom you ask. Sarasota Police and newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried say the substance is currently unlawful — something Fried hopes to change through legislation to create a CBD program in the state, she has said.
Current state law prohibits the sale of cannabis derivatives, with the exception of medical marijuana, Harrell said, adding there’s another state law on the books that allows a strict hemp pilot program.
Hemp proponents and CBD retailers argue they are in compliance with federal law. President Donald Trump in December signed Congress’ omnibus Farm Bill into law, legalizing hemp at the federal level. Hemp, which is related to marijuana but has no psychoactive effect, has been classified as a controlled substance under federal law for years. The Farm Bill removed the designation and classified hemp as an agricultural product, legally disassociating hemp from marijuana, which remains illegal to grow in most states. If grown as a crop, hemp plants must not have more than 0.3 percent THC, or it must be destroyed. The law also allows hemp to be transported across state lines, expanding options for sales.
City Attorney Robert Fournier said he understands the confusion over the product’s legality because state laws defining cannabis are very broad, he said.
Deborah Gestner, a part-time Sarasota resident and member of the board of directors of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, argues selling CBD oil in Florida is legal because it’s not a derivative of marijuana. Isaacson, Griffith and many of their customers agree.
“We have had doctors, pediatricians, specifically in town, that have sent their patients to us, as well as pain management doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists,” Isaacson said. “The community has accepted us and I think it’s just a matter of time and hopefully a great conversation where we can work together with everyone else where we can make this a positive instead of such a negative.”
One of Isaacson’s customers, Nikki French of North Port, said a form of the CBD oil she buys from Second and Seed has been life-altering for her daughter, Clara, 4, who is autistic. Before taking the oil twice a day, Clara was nonverbal, her mother said.
“You could tell a difference right away,” French said of the effect the oil had on her toddler. ”There were new words that came daily, then phrases. You can tell the progression now.”
If the police ban the sale of the product, it would be devastating for her daughter, French said, adding she will “fight with everything I have.”
“If we’ve got to go to Congress, we’ll take it anywhere we need to take it,” French said. “If we need to start at the city level and go all the way up, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Word of the impending crackdown elicited similarly passionate reactions on social media.
“I take CBD daily. It doesn’t make you high. I drive for a living, too … I went from taking 10 ibuprofen a day to zero after I started taking CBD,” one Facebook user posted on the Herald-Tribune’s page.
“You don’t have better things to do? What a waste of tax payer money! I give my dog CBD oil for seizures. It doesn’t make you high. It’s highly anti-inflammatory. This is nuts!!!” another Facebook user wrote.
CDB oil has been credited with relieving pain, anxiety, sleep issues and other health conditions.
It’s Griffith’s hope that recently introduced House Bill 333 will help the hemp industry. The bill aims to establish a hemp program within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that provides requirements for program registration, distribution, retail sale of hemp, hemp products and hemp extract.
“That will change a lot of things,” Griffith said if the legislation passes.