The owner of a company that supplies hemp oil to shops across the Kansas City area says he’s now making a special product line for Kansas after Mission police seized the supply of one of his retailers because it contained trace amounts of the chemical in marijuana produces a “high” at certain doses.
Vince Sanders, the owner of CBD American Shaman, said he hopes the move will appease law enforcement officials who say that Kansas law dictates zero tolerance for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — even the small amounts found in hemp products.
“I hate to lobotomize the product, if you will, for Kansas consumption, but if that is their interpretation (of the law) it is what it is,” Sanders said.
Industrial hemp and marijuana for recreational use both come from the cannabis sativa plant, but from different genetic varieties. Illegal recreational marijuana averaged about 9 percent THC in 2008 according to one study and recreational marijuana grown and sold legally in Colorado in recent years has averaged close to 19 percent THC due to selective breeding techniques.
Sanders said he tests his products to make sure they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, which he believes makes them legal under a federal farm bill passed in 2014, even though the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency still considers marijuana and all of its extracts a Schedule I controlled substance.
Hemp with traces of THC also appears in products like shampoo, clothing, ropes and foods like granola produced by other companies and sold online and in retail outlets.
Sanders’ herbal supplements are marketed based on another chemical found in both marijuana and hemp: cannabidiol, or CBD. Powders, oils and lotions made from CBD don’t produce a high, but some users say ingesting it or rubbing it on the skin helps with pain and other medical conditions. Most of those claims haven’t been vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but GW Pharmaceuticals is in late-stage FDA clinical trials for a CBD-based drug for some epilepsy conditions.
Sanders said he had been shipping the same products to all 50 states, Europe and Japan until the seizure last month at an alternative medicine store on Johnson Drive called Into the Mystic.
The Mission Police Department cited “zero tolerance” state anti-marijuana laws in seizing the products from store owner Eddie Smith. The case has since been turned over to the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office.
Smith faces up to three years in prison if charged with selling marijuana. Kristi Bergeron, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, declined to comment, except to say that it’s “an ongoing investigation.”
Several CBD oil shops have popped up on both sides of the state line in the Kansas City metro area in recent years, despite questions about their legality. Former Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued some sellers last year. Missouri allows CBD oil only for treating epilepsy and manufacturers and sellers of it have to be licensed with the state.
Ryan Vandrey, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the effects of cannabis, said it’s hard to pin down how much low-THC hemp oil one would have to consume to have a psychoactive effect. But he said it’s a lot, and most law enforcement agencies haven’t done much to crack down on it, in part because “the hemp law is a little bit confusing.”
“The CBD or hemp oils are widely available over the internet,” Vandrey said. “They’re sold in gas stations and head shops around here. ... It’s not like these are regulated products. I think they’re tolerated but they’re technically illegal in the eyes of law enforcement.”
Sanders said Kansas officials have said it’s OK to sell CBD oils if they have no THC, so he’s working on making a separate set of products, on separate equipment, to ensure there’s no trace of it.
“We’ve literally gone through every piece of equipment and cleaned it with ethanol,” Sanders said.
He said he has submitted samples of the new products to authorities for testing and has offered to give them to any Kansas retailers that want to trade back their stock of low-THC products.
He said it’s costly, but he’s doing it out of a sense of loyalty to customers like Smith.
“It would honestly maybe make more sense just to not ship to Kansas,” Sanders said. “It’s a small state.”