CBD products are popping up in stores throughout Iowa. But are they legal?
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From grocery stores to athletic clubs, CBD-based products are becoming increasingly common in Iowa.
But are they legal?
State authorities say CBD, or cannabidiol, is a derivative of marijuana and a controlled substance. Proponents of the substance say CBD products contain little or no THC, the chemical that makes recreational marijuana users high.
Merchants — and more than a few people who use their products — say CBD eases an array of maladies by working with nerve receptors in the body. They credit it with helping with anxiety, sleeplessness, pain, inflammation and, in children, epilepsy.
"I have less pain,” said Shelby Long, 27, who has used CBD gummies and a topical cream to help alleviate back pain and symptoms of eczema and tendinitis. “It’s like taking a Tylenol, but it’s better for your kidneys."
The Des Moines woman said she thought U.S. lawmakers had legalized CBD products last year. She purchased gummies and cream from a shop on the city's south side that sells glass pipes.
But this week, law enforcement in the tiny northeast Iowa town of Clermont searched T's Brick City Spa for CBD products and confiscated items from the small establishment. They ordered the business, which offers massage, facial and skin treatments, to stop selling products containing CBD.
"If the law is the law then every sheriffs department should be dealing with this the same," said Tanya Tysland, owner of T's Brick City Spa. "I think Iowa really needs to quickly figure this out and stop harassing small business owners."
Police in Muscatine and Carroll have conducted similar searches at other businesses and seized oils, lotions and candies that merchants touted as containing benign extracts from hemp plants.
"It has been a common misconception that CBD oil and any hemp derivatives are legal," the Fayette County Sheriff's Office wrote Wednesday in an online statement after the search at T's Brick City Spa. "Iowa law still holds any derivatives from the cannabis sativa plant as a Schedule I Controlled Substance."
If it's illegal, why is CBD so easy to find?
Iowa lawmakers passed the first Medical Cannabidiol Act in 2014, making it legal for a doctor to prescribe CBD oil for the treatment of epilepsy.
The law was expanded in 2017 to add Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer and other conditions to the list of maladies the state says can be treated with CBD oil prescribed by a doctor.
Then, last year, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the production of hemp containing less than .3 percent THC, and the use of hemp and its derivatives across state lines.
CBD supporters saw it as a major step, paving the way for CBD oils, lotions and creams to be used and sold in stores.
However, over-the-counter CBD products are still illegal in Iowa, and that won't change until the Legislature decides to change the law or more direction on the Farm Bill comes from the federal government, said Dale Woolery, associate director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.
“We don’t want to affect commerce, but we don’t want anyone getting sick or being impaired,” he said.
That leaves local police agencies and county attorneys to decide how strictly they enforce state law covering CBD products sold in stores.
The Des Moines Police Department’s narcotics unit has made seizures of CBD products — “some significant in quantity" — from stores, Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek said.
But Des Moines police have not issued criminal changes, he said.
That's also the case in Muscatine and Fayette counties, where authorities confiscated products but didn't file charges.
Growth of retailers selling CBD products in Des Moines
After 25 years spent supplying junk food, pop and chips to convenience stores, Tony Sparks founded Betterment Retail Solutions Inc., a West Des Moines-based company that brings CBD- and hemp-based goods to retailers.
His products include lip balms, cookie dough protein bars, bottled water, tincture (an herbal extract), mints and chocolate bars.
While Sparks said he knows his products can help people suffering from health ailments, the profitability of CBD products and the loose regulation in the state has brought out vendors willing to sell products even if they are unaware of the contents.
He said he wants lawmakers to legalize CBD for over-the-counter use and put rules and regulations in place to weed out bad actors.
"Until then, it's the wild, wild west," he said.
Lacie Navin, the owner of Your CBD Store in Urbandale, spent a Thursday afternoon answering questions about CBD bath bombs and tincture doses from middle-aged and elderly customers.
The professional photographer said she opened the CBD specialty store after her uncle, who suffers from chronic fibromyalgia, found relief from using the products.
"We were skeptical as most people are, and I watched it change his life,” Navin said.
She said she, too, is frustrated with the growing number of stores selling CBD items with little knowledge of the products or how they are used.
"I spend my days researching and looking at the newest formulations," Navin said.
Popular chain stores like Natural Grocers and Fresh Thyme, and local favorites like Gateway Market and Campbell's Nutrition, all carry CBD oil.
Diane Lahodny, owner of Campbell's Nutrition, began carrying CBD years ago after learning about the health benefits. She tested the tinctures and lotions she sells, which typically range between .04 to .08 THC, she said.
She doesn't expect to expand her products to include candies because of their sugar content, and because she's unsure if they would pass her vetting process.
"We have daily feedback from people. Positive feedback," Lahodny said. "Especially for relieving minor aches and pains and anxiety."
Gateway Market started selling CBD water at its Woodland Avenue store in February.
“We wanted something more food driven,” store director David Clemens said. “I figured the infused water would be a good place to start.”
Clemens said he’s watched the CBD market grow in natural and health food stores and he wanted to try it out at Gateway Market. The store's sold several cases of the bottled water since adding it last month.
He’s considered expanding the CBD offerings at Gateway, but products like gummies and chocolates are pricey, he said.
"The number of vendors manufacturing it is still pretty small,” Clemens said.
Even if the price is high, retailers are finding that customers are willing to shell out the money for a product they believe works.
"I don’t feel comfortable taking Tylenol and ibuprofen every day, because I already take a lot of other medications," said Long, the Des Moines woman who uses gummies and cream.
The CBD products alleviate her back pain and help lessen symptoms of other issues, she said.
"It's definitely not just a placebo effect."
Linh Ta is a news and business reporter who covers retail for the Des Moines Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8198.