SARASOTA — A planned crackdown by police on shops that sell a non-intoxicating cousin of cannabis has been delayed.
The Sarasota Police Department last week intended to begin enforcement efforts on retailers who sell cannabidiol — known more commonly as CBD — but the crackdown has been delayed until Police Chief Bernadette DiPino officially signs off on a cease and desist letter officers will deliver to stores demanding they stop selling CBD, which comes in various forms, including oils, edibles and topical creams. Retailers in the city that sell CBD include gas stations, grocers and standalone shops that exclusively specialize in the product, derived from hemp plants that contain minuscule levels of THC, the main intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. The planned crackdown comes after roughly seven complaints of citizens recently falling ill after using the products, police have said.
“We are still moving forward with education for our community on the dangers involved when purchasing CBD oil from outlets other than licensed dispensaries. The letter remains a work in progress,” police spokeswoman Genevieve Judge said in an email.
While the Sarasota Police crackdown looms, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has no plans to launch an enforcement effort of its own, spokeswoman Kaitlyn Perez said. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office also has no plans for an organized crackdown, although it recently seized nearly 100 CBD oil cartridges containing THC at a private residence earlier this month, authorities there said.
“Although we have not received complaints from anyone who experienced a negative reaction to a CBD product purchased in Charlotte County, it is still something we caution the public about using due to the publicized safety concerns about regulation and oversight of THC levels in the product,” Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Katie Heck told the Herald-Tribune in an email. “As with any illegal drug, the unknown about where it was produced and what it contains is very dangerous. We will continue to work with businesses on education and enforce the law when and where applicable.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office could not be reached for comment. Sarasota 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. Sarasota County, however, doesn’t have an estimate of retailers who sell the product, a county spokesman said, adding the county refuses to issue business use permits to entities that openly propose selling CBD oil.
Sarasota’s impending crackdown is an educational campaign — not an organized raid of businesses, police and Twelfth District State Attorney Ed Brodsky have stressed. Brodsky told the Herald-Tribune he has no immediate plans to prosecute merchants who sell the substance, which has been credited by some with relieving pain, seizures, anxiety, sleep issues and other health conditions.
CBD merchants believe the stalled enforcement efforts came after police began to contemplate the crackdown.
“This has created some sort of understanding from an educational view that this isn’t something that needs to be taken lightly. There are a lot of conversations that need to be had. I feel very hopeful at some point that is going to happen,” said Shelby Isaacson, who co-owns Second and Seed, a shop in downtown Sarasota that sells hemp extract and CBD oil from hemp.
“It seems that because the state attorney has no interest in prosecuting, that has caused a level of step back from the police,” Isaacson added.
There’s been widespread debate about the legality of the products, with Brodsky urging the state Legislature to clarify laws regarding CBD. Sarasota Police and newly elected Florida 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, Mike Harrell, a retired Tampa Police detective who now serves as a civilian investigator in the narcotics unit for Sarasota Police has told the Herald-Tribune. He added 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.
A recently introduced House Bill 333 might help clarify the confusion and establish a clearly defined hemp industry in the state. 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.