ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — It won't get you high, but it's creating a lot of buzz.
That buzz around CBD has led to a surge of shops in the mountains selling it. It was FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's statement in December that had many asking many News 13 if what shops were selling was even legal.
A News 13 investigation looked into the complicated rules.
The State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been talking with and conferring with the FDA and just recently decided to issue a letter drawing the line on at least three things the state is clarifying when it comes to state law and CBD.
A year ago, many of the signs you now see around the mountains were nonexistent. Recently, they've sprouted from sidewalks and store-fronts across the mountains.
From gift stores to coffee shops, salons to what used to be a former used car dealership, everybody seems to be selling it.
Products include CBD-infused water and other drinks, coffee beans, ice cream, gummies and chocolates.
The buzz over CBD shows no signs of slowing.
"I'd say we're a top-five state when it comes to the hemp opportunity moving forward," said Blake Butler, president of the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Association.
Butler sees industrial hemp and its byproducts as the state's tobacco replacement.
"We are definitely encouraging people to be realistic and scale up,” said Butler.
Carolina Hemp Company's four-and-a-half-year journey started as one of now 500 growers for the state's pilot industrial hemp program. Its second shop on Haywood Road sells carefully selected products from coffee with CBD to bags and socks made with hemp fiber to hemp flowers.
“When you have something emerging on the scene as rapidly and positively as this plant is, of course it's going to draw a lot of attention, good, bad and the ugly,” said Brian Bullman, Carolina Hemp Company owner and hemp advocate.
Recent changes to the Farm Bill, which sets policy for agriculture and food across the country, gives Bullman and others hope hemp and CBD markets will open.
The FDA and North Carolina, however, are just now clarifying the legality of some products.
“The FDA’s statement is not new. It's the same thing that they've been saying, and we've been looking at it through that lens for a while,” said Bullman.
At the heart of the debate is hemp oil versus hemp-derived CBD oil. Hemp oil is typically pressed from the seeds of the hemp plant and has no THC, while CBD is typically extracted from the leaves and flowers of the plant.
While the hemp-derived CBD has less than 0.3 percent THC, even that small amount makes it an active drug, so it falls under the FDA's enforcement.
“It's not unusual for products to make it to the marketplace, and for regulations to catch up, and that's what you're seeing here,” said Joe Reardon, assistant commissioner of consumer protection for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
In December, Reardon said, the FDA clarified an active drug can't be combined in food, and now North Carolina's taken the same position.
“So, food products that would advertise or have CBD in it is actually an illegal product. It is by FDA and it is by state law as well,” said Reardon.
The State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is starting with the state's 500 permitted growers and 300 processors, sending letters and taking an "educate before you regulate" approach.
“As you go along and learn a lot about this, then we're learning, too. So, if it's represented to be CBD or an active ingredient of CBD, then it’s a prohibited act,” said Reardon.
Failure to comply according to the state’s letter could lead to legal action. The other two categories where CBD is considered illegal and the state is enforcing include CBD in dietary supplements, or any product with CBD making claims it can prevent or cure a disease without first going through clinical trials.
“It's prohibited by FDA, and it’s kind of complicated how they got there on that, but it is prohibited,” said Reardon.
What about those eyedropper bottles or tinctures, the oil that goes under your tongue, that so many of the shops sell? It's unclear, as the FDA has decided not to decide for now.
“The FDA has not provided the clarity around that that we're looking for yet, so we're going to see those products continue to go into the marketplace,” said Reardon.
North Carolina could take it a step further, becoming the first in the nation to create production standards for CBD oil.
Legislation is being drafted by the Ag Department and could come up for a vote later this year.
“The Department of Ag will explore developing regulations that will be specific to the processing, packaging and labeling, of those tincture products. It's the right thing to do,” said Reardon.
The goal is to give consumers wanting CBD peace of mind, in buying a product with quality assurances.
‘We will really look at the strength of the product, the composition of the product, and the consistency and the uniformity and the reliability of the product,” said Reardon.
When this story aired, many shops in the Asheville hadn't received the state's letter. But owners, including Sean Wilson, are prepared to remove what they have to from store shelves to meet state law, once they review what the state has sent.
“We're going to make sure we're doing everything that we can to comply with the state guidelines, we want to be here in the long term,” said Wilson.
While Bullman thinks products on his shelves will meet state law and stay, he and agriculture leaders encourage those buying CBD to do their homework.
“It's all about the questions, where's the product made, where's it grown, where are the test results, do you have access to, so I can see with my own eyes, the test results, and can you explain them to me,” Bullman said of the questions consumers should be asking.
Bullman said you can ask to see that the product is third-party tested, You can ask to see the Certificate of Analysis, that's the broad range of cannabinoid profile testing in which they test for micotoxins, heavy metals and pesticides.
Bullman also recommends, "In this industry specifically, it's best to know, to the largest extent that you can, the people that you're purchasing from."
Past starting with the licensed growers and processors, the state has said as they're out conducting inspections, they be looking at other shops that should get letters.
"We have inspectors all across the state inspecting places that sell food everyday, if they run across these products in the marketplace or we become aware of it, then we will follow up with a letter, educate them on what is the law and where do these products fall within the provisions of that," said Reardon
If you're buying hemp-derived products, look at the ingredients. If it has hulled hemp seed, hemp seed protein powder and hemp seed oil, the FDA doesn't have a problem with these ingredients in food, because they typically don't have CBD or THC in them.
The Department of Agriculture said it expects to meet with growers and processors to get their opinions as new legislation is crafted.
Those meetings are expected to start next month.