Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Alaska Journal of Commerce, and is reprinted with permission.
Several retailers have confirmed that Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office enforcement seized thousands of dollars worth of imported cannabidiol oils on Feb. 9. Until they know what it is, officials said, Alaska retailers shouldn’t be selling it.
The products came from outside Alaska and were not packaged according to Alaska marijuana regulation, though federal law makes similar hemp oils with low THC concentrations legal for sale in all 50 states.
Everyone's confused about where CBD falls in Alaska's cannabis regulations.
“A tip from the U.S. Post Office led investigators from the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office (AMCO) to confiscate unapproved marijuana oils from several licensed retail marijuana stores across the state,” read a press release following the product seizures. “Post office staff contacted AMCO regarding leaking packages containing over 1,000 vials of CBD (cannabidiol) oil. AMCO investigators inspected the packages and found 20 unmarked vials. The presence of an unknown substance in a package with products intended for human consumption—including syringe-style dispensers, chocolate bars, chewing gum, and caramel-flavored agave sticks—posed a potential public health and safety risk.”
Alaska statute specifies that CBD oils are indeed a marijuana product and therefore under the supervision of the Marijuana Control Board. Federal laws, however, have caused problems for some Alaska companies who have up until now assumed CBD products were separate from marijuana.
The Alaska Marijuana Control Board will hold a closed meeting on the topic with each of the involved retailers.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-intoxicating compound derived from hemp, often made into tinctures, lotions and other topical therapeutic products for pain management and even epilepsy treatment.
Bryant Thorpe, owner of Anchorage’s first retail establishment, Arctic Herbery, confirmed that enforcement staff took his CBD products, and that he was not notified of the seizure until it happened.
Lily Bosshart, owner of Anchorage retail shop Dankorage, said enforcement called her to warn not to remove any CBD products until they could arrive — they had showed up to the closed shop unannounced beforehand.
The seizures come from confusion about CBD products’ place in the Alaska regulatory structure.
'I wouldn’t be selling it if I thought it would be a problem.'
Bosshart, along with several other retailers who had their CBD products seized, said this is the first she has heard about the product being illegal in Alaska.
“It was my understanding that hemp products and this product in particular were ok,” she said. “I was unaware that this would be an issue. I wouldn’t be selling it if I thought it would be a problem.”
James Hoelscher, AMCO’s chief investigator, said shops have a responsibility to find out for themselves whether or not products are legal if there is a perceived gray area.
“When we spoke with retailers, a few were not aware that CBD oil was a regulated product. However, two admitted that they knew it wasn’t legal and were selling it anyway,” said Hoelscher in an AMCO release. “If there is a question about whether a product is legal to sell, all licensees need to do is pick up the phone.”
Harriet Milks, AMCO’s legal counsel, said she was not fully aware of the circumstances around the seizures, but that she was aware of questions regarding CBD products as they came onto retail shelves in recent weeks.
“’What is this product? We need to find out what it is,’” she said. “If it’s a marijuana product under our law I think we have a problem because it doesn’t seem to be packaged or tested or tracked according to Alaska regulations…if it’s not marijuana under our law, that’s a different story.”