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News 13 Investigates: Mountain stores aren't budging when it comes to CBD in food products

“It's one big experiment, this really is a new evolving industry,” said Bill Cheek, owner of Nature’s Vitamins & Herbs. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)
“It's one big experiment, this really is a new evolving industry,” said Bill Cheek, owner of Nature’s Vitamins & Herbs. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)
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“It's one big experiment, this really is a new evolving industry,” said Bill Cheek, owner of Nature’s Vitamins & Herbs.

As the 2019 planting season kicks off, the number of licensed hemp growers in North Carolina has exploded, up 297 percent from January 2018.

As growers capitalize on hemp, questions about what’s legal remain. News 13 first reported in February the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services sent letters, reminding businesses not to sell food or animal feed with CBD. What News 13 uncovered is many businesses that say despite those letters, they'll wait for enforcement before reacting.

“We looked for a dispensary because it was legal in all 50 states, but we couldn't find it anywhere,” Sharon Wess said as News 13 spoke with her at Nature’s Vitamin’s & Herbs.

That had the Wess family from Orlando shopping for CBD in Asheville. Michael Wess, a Vietnam Veteran, suffers from severe headaches.

“I never really thought this would do anything for me, but we decided it try it,” Michael Wess said.


“We don't go without it now for him,” Sharon Wess said.

Bruce Yates struggles with muscle inflammation.

“There's really no good way to treat it except with drugs that have terrible side effects,” Yates, of Florida, said.

But he can’t buy CBD edibles there.

“This is less expensive per milligram to buy gummy bears?” Yates asked of the clerk.

“Each state seems like it has different laws. Edibles aren't allowed in the state of Florida,” Yates said.

North Carolina retailers face a similar issue. Many stock CBD edibles, as state and federal regulations struggle to catch up. North Carolina's grown from 44 licensed processors to 322, a 631 percent increase since January of last year.

“This industry is totally unregulated, which concerns a lot of people,” Cheek said.

In February, the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services sent a letter to licensed growers and processors warning CBD can't be added to food for sale.

Recently, when News 13 went back to stores, The Circle's owner on Haywood Road took the letter literally.

“I took some products off of the shelves,” said Shannon Covart, owner of The Circle.

When other shops weren't as quick to react, Covart restocked CBD gummies.

“It's just a time we're going to go with the flow and evaluate all the laws as they come out and adjust as needed,” Covart said.

The Hop Ice Cream Cafe considers its CBD ice cream like any other flavor profile. It has also decided to put the "chill" on removing it along with Nature's Vitamins & Herbs.

“Yeah, we've done our homework, we feel like we've done it right,” Cheek said.

News 13 reached out to attorney Rod Kight, who advises many growers, processors and store owners.

“Some are absolutely saying we're going to hold the course, there's been no enforcement action based on this, we haven't seen products being seized or embargoed in North Carolina,” Kight said.

North Carolina Senate Bill 315 introduced in March creates a hemp program to set rules for growing and processing industrial hemp. Until it's in place, Kight and others are banking the federal government finds a way to legally allow CBD to be added to food. A public hearing is set for May.

“The FDA has asked Congress to fix this, because it thinks Congress can do it faster,” Kight said.

While businesses wait, customers continue to learn more and have lots of questions.

“I want to ask what's different between a full spectrum?” asked Belinda Manix, of Florida.

Right now, the state doesn't differentiate between forms of CBD, but retailers think what may eventually win approval in food is how the hemp's processed into products.

“Our interpretation is that any food product, edible product, is legal if it contains what you call full spectrum hemp extract as opposed to CBD isolate,” Cheek said.

Full spectrum uses the entire hemp bud, which has CBD less than 0.3 percent THC, and other compounds. Jeff Tacy, of Franny's Farmacy gave us a rare look at the processed bud before it's diluted and added to products.

“This has everything the plant has to offer,” Tacy said.

The other version is CBD Isolate, which is just pure CBD and only that compound.

The FDA's approval of a prescription drug using CBD Isolate started the food crack down. Which is why Kight recommends business choose foods with full spectrum extracts and keep the paperwork to back it up.

“Everything made the grade, we called all our companies, like we have a chocolate product, we have some gummies, we have some pet products, we have a CBD tea," Cheek said..

It’s all staying on shelves for now, hopeful state and federal regulators meet consumers in the middle.

“It's one step closer to helping a lot of people who can't find relief from traditional western medicine,” said Yates.

A Consumer Reports survey found, more than a quarter of U.S. adults have tried CBD.

Forty-percent are ages 18-29, but 15 percent are over 60 plus.

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How are most consumers getting CBD? Thirty-five percent have tried CBD in food and drinks, 30 percent use drops, sprays or vapes and 21 percent use topical lotions, according to Consumer Reports survey.

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