Pharmacists in my home State of North Carolina may now sell hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products with the blessing of their licensing board. According to a memo issued in September by the NC Board of Pharmacy (the Board): “The laws do allow the sale of hemp products for consumption, such as hemp seeds and hemp seed oils, as well as other products containing hemp oils.” Believe it or not, this is actually a significant turn of events given the Board’s prior positions on the matter. With respect to hemp based products, the Board has taken NC pharmacists on a bit of a rollercoaster ride this year. First, it issued a memo in March, 2017 (the First Memo). The title of the First Memo should suffice as a summary of the Board’s position: “North Carolina Law does not authorize pharmacies to possess or sell cannabidiol products.” In the wake of this memo NC pharmacists who believed in and advocated for hemp products were forced to remove them from their shelves. I spoke with many who were stunned and frustrated by their Board’s position.
Fortunately, the Board quickly issued a revised memo in May, 2017 which stated: “The laws do allow the sale of hemp products for consumption, such as hemp seeds and hemp seed oils, as well as other products containing hemp oils.” The catch was that it went on to say, “[T]he North Carolina statute – by its terms – permits the sale of only those products “produced by a grower licensed by the [North Carolina Industrial Hemp] Commission,” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 106-568.51(7), meaning that the hemp in the product must have been grown under the North Carolina pilot program.” I took issue with the Board’s interpretation of NC’s hemp laws and had a robust conversation with Executive Director Jay Campbell. Also a lawyer, Jay supported the Board’s position vigorously and we concluded our conversation at a stalemate. He firmly believed that only products derived from hemp cultivated in NC were lawful. This was a small (and short-lived) boon to NC farmers and producers; however, it was a major loss to consumers, particularly since no hemp crops had ever been harvested at the time that the revised memo was issued.
I’m happy to report that May’s revised memo has been revised yet again, this time without reference to hemp grown specifically in NC. Now any lawful hemp product can be sold by NC pharmacists. In adopting the official position of the NC Attorney General, the Board now authorizes NC Pharmacists to sell hemp-based products, which necessarily includes both CBD-only and “full spectrum” products containing multiple cannabinoids and/or terpenes, as long as they are “(a) made of “industrial hemp” containing not more than .3% THC on a dry weight basis; and (b) produced pursuant to a state pilot program.”
This is significant for at least two reasons. First, it is normal and natural for pharmacists to sell hemp based health products. Of the list of a pharmacist’s duties, the General Pharmaceutical Council includes such things as: “[ensuring] the quality of medicines supplied to patients; ensuring that the supply of medicines is within the law; ensuring that the medicines prescribed to patients are suitable; and advising patients about medicines, including how to take them, what reactions may occur and answering patients’ questions.” Getting information about new health aids and feeling confident about the quality and legality of them from a reputable source is important to most people. Many of us rely on pharmacists to fulfill this role. Secondly, I do not think that it is a coincidence that the Board has opened its doors to hemp products at the same time that news outlets have begun reporting that national chains (Target, Luckys) are beginning to stock hemp products. The tide is turning in favor of hemp and the public- through its collective wallet- is starting to dictate policy. Stay tuned. I predict that this is just the beginning of an enormous wave of hemp products that will wash over stores, pharmacies, and online retail outlets.
That being said, the Board was careful to put the onus on licensed pharmacists to ensure that the particular hemp products they stock are, in fact, lawful. Unfortunately, the legal status of hemp, and particularly CBD, remains overly (and annoyingly) complex. It shouldn’t take lawyer to tell you whether brand “X” is legal. Unfortunately, and until the law changes, it often does.
[Many thanks to my friend, hemp-health businessman, and former NC NORML executive director Jon Kennedy for sending me the Board’s memo this morning.]