Welcomed Science has sought for more than a year to get Garden City’s permission to sell products derived from hemp plants, a cousin of the marijuana plant that’s bred to have almost none of the chemical that makes people high.
The proposed store, located at 5155 N. Glenwood St. in the same complex as Revolution Concert House, would offer a variety of cannabidiol (CBD) oils and related products.
Garden City hasn’t issued permits for the business. Mayor John Evans and City Attorney Charles Wadams want to make sure the shop’s goods are, in fact, free of illegal chemicals. So, they say, they have personally overseen Welcomed Science’s application instead of leaving it to the city’s Development Services Department.
“We are not going to allow the sale of products that are not legal,” Evans said.
Meanwhile, a company called Global CBD has been selling many of the same products since May out of its own store in Sandpoint. Business is booming with a stream of new customers and regulars, owner Joel Bordeaux said during a recent store visit.
Another store, Snake River Solace, opened March 9 in Idaho Falls. Company President Cody Hellickson said he’s seeing a lot of people curious about the store’s products. He said other customers, including a law enforcement officer, have been using them for years.
For more than a year before opening its Downtown Sandpoint store, Global CBD sold products wholesale to businesses such as health food and supplement retailers, Bordeaux said. He offers dozens of testimonials from customers who’ve used the products for pain, seizures, anxiety and other maladies.
The key ingredient is CBD, which advocates say has healing properties. It is separate from THC, another chemical found in cannabis that gives marijuana psychoactive properties. Hellickson and Bordeaux say their products have zero THC, so they’re legal.
“It’s not about high. It’s about healing,” Bordeaux said. “And CBD with no THC — why in the world would you fight that? There’s absolutely no downside.”
The Idaho Legislature has considered multiple attempts to legalize CBD oil with trace amounts of THC for medicinal purposes, but those efforts have failed. In debates at the Statehouse, experts have cast doubt on whether CBD products can be totally free of THC.
That’s left cities determining on their own, case by case, how to regulate the shops — creating winners and losers depending on each city’s level of concern.
Is it legal?
The type of CBD the Idaho stores say they source is a chemical compound that comes from hemp plants. Those are grown for many purposes, including textile manufacturing.
Hemp is a variety of cannabis. Under federal law, hemp plants or seeds are legal in certain circumstances if they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Marijuana plants are also in the cannabis genus, but they are bred and cultivated to maximize THC content, which can be as high as 35 percent. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and while more than half of states now allow some sort of medical or recreational use, Idaho is not among those.
Repeated efforts by the Statesman this past week to contact Welcomed Science’s owners and attorney were unsuccessful. But in previous interviews, the owners said the CBD in their products comes from the mature stalks of hemp plants instead of the buds and leaves, where THC content is much higher.
Bordeaux said the same, and that all THC is removed from his products in a process that isolates CBD.
The Statesman wasn’t able to reach certain Sandpoint officials to talk about Global CBD. But Bordeaux said he didn’t have any problems working with the city, and suggested public officials in the Boise area have shown more caution about CBD products than in the rest of the state.
Garden City wants to know whether Welcomed Science’s products were made with resin from any part of the cannabis plant. Idaho law makes cannabis resin illegal but exempts mature stalks from its definition of “marijuana” — as long as they’re THC-free. So to be legal, CBD oil must meet two criteria: It must contain absolutely no THC and come from mature stalks, according to an informal opinion that Deputy Idaho Attorney General John McKinney provided Elisha Figueroa, administrator of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, in 2015.
Some experts have told the city that CBD oil is made from resin — the sap of the plant — and that it’s impossible to get all THC out of the product, Mayor Evans said.
That’s not always true, according to Aaron Stancik, a chemist for Medicine Creek Analytics, a Seattle-area cannabis testing lab.
“CBD products can be produced that don’t contain THC,” Stancik wrote in a letter that Welcomed Science provided to Garden City. “There are chemical processes that yield CBD without forming an extracted resin intermediate. CBD can be isolated from the mature stalks of the cannabis plant without utilizing the extracted resin.”
Garden City has asked Welcomed Science for verification that Stancik, whose company bio calls him the “ambassador of cannabis science,” qualifies as an expert witness.
Additionally, Welcomed Science sent a sample of its CBD oil to a lab. As of March 14, the lab had not returned the results, Wadams told the Statesman.
Does it really work?
Bordeaux is careful not to say CBD “treats, cures or prevents” any diseases. That would be against U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules, he said. The agency has not approved CBD for use “in any drug product for any indication,” according to a notice last fall about companies making unsubstantiated CBD claims.
But Bordeaux can — and does — say he’s seen people’s conditions improve after taking CBD. His own 4-year-old son started having seizures at 3, he said, but they’ve stopped since Bordeaux started giving the child CBD oil. An experimental CBD program in Idaho has seen good initial results in reducing the number of seizures among dozens of children, a Department of Health and Welfare official told lawmakers in January.
Rather than make people high, Bordeaux said, CBD can actually help them overcome drug addictions by bringing them down and relieving withdrawal symptoms.
“It helps with 52 known conditions,” he said. “If you’re fighting CBD with no THC, you should be thrown in jail, in my opinion, because you’re keeping people from something that’s very beneficial. … That’s unethical in all senses of the word.”
Bordeaux said there’s some evidence CBD even fights cancer. “If I had cancer, I’d take it,” he said. “And I’d take it a lot.”
That claim has not been confirmed, however. The American Cancer Society’s website includes a section on CBD and marijuana research: “While the studies so far have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they help control or cure the disease.” And the FDA notice warned against unregulated products that claim to treat cancer.
“Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. “We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer, and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products.”
Lawmakers and CBD
Idaho legislators have focused on allowing CBD oil with tiny amounts of THC, not whether the product without any THC at all is legal. One of their chief concerns is the lack of guarantee that legal CBD products would contain miniscule amounts of THC at most. “The resistance from many was ‘we can’t control it,’ ” Evans said. “There’s no controls on the source of the product.”
Even if the state did legalize CBD, Evans said, Garden City doesn’t want to chance running afoul of federal law. He pointed out that the attorney general’s opinion was “informal.”
The Idaho Legislature debated a controversial bill this year to legalize CBD oil, but it is likely dead after a dispute among lawmakers. The bill stalled when it reached the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, where chairman Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, tucked the measure away in a drawer.
His decision made headlines after Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls, asked the committee to hold a hearing on the bill. Heider gaveled down the request, took his committee into an illegal closed-door meeting, then held a public vote to keep the bill in committee. Heider the following day apologized and the committee erased the vote, but the bill has budged no further.
Heider said he halted the bill because Gov. Butch Otter opposes it. There is a method by which senators can call a bill out of committee to the Senate floor. But Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said Tuesday that he doesn’t think any senators will seek to do that this year.
Lawmakers passed a similar bill in 2015, to allow CBD oil for treatment of certain epilepsy or seizure disorders. But Otter vetoed it, saying the change would be another step toward legalizing marijuana. He instead created the experimental program, which continues today.