Lack of federal guidance and state resources has left CBD products untested for months

Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-17 18:24:53-05

CBD products across Ohio are available for sale on store shelves, but neither federal nor state regulators are testing it to make sure it's safe for consumers.

Fibromyalgia has made it nearly impossible for Pamela Palmer to get around.

"It's pain all over my body," said Palmer, describing her symptoms.

Palmer uses medical marijuana just to get by. During the day she uses CBD, the marijuana compound that does not get users high.

"The CBD, it just makes me comfortable," said Palmer. "It takes the edge off of it."

Palmer gets her medical marijuana through Ohio's highly-regulated Medical Marijuana Control Program.

But in Ohio, CBD products are available anywhere.

In July, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 57, creating a program for growing hemp in Ohio that will be overseen by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The license process for cultivators and processors is expected to start in early 2020.

See our previous coverage of Senate Bill 57 here.

See our previous coverage of the Ohio Hemp Association here.

Senate Bill 57 also allowed CBD products from other states to be sold in Ohio right away, after News 5 showed that many CBD products were already being sold before it was legal in Ohio.

But right now, Ohio doesn't know much about what is in the CBD products from other states.

"I would never get anything from those places, ever, because I don't trust where they come from," said Palmer.

So far, Ohio Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors have only been checking to make sure products boxes don't make false claims, like that CBD can cure a disease.

When a label does make those claims, Chief of the Division of Food Safety Terri Gerhardt says they pull it from the shelves. But the Department isn't making public what stores they've visited or what products they've pulled.

"Well, we've already taken care of it though," said Gerhardt. "If we're not comfortable with it, it's off the shelf and what's there is fine for the consumer."

At least what inspectors think is find for consumers, because the state still isn't able to test CBD products to see exactly what's inside.

After CBD sales became legal, Department of Agriculture inspectors still needed to make plans to and get resources to test those products.

"The problem is: we had a program but we had no money," said Gerhardt. "You can't do anything until you have money."

The Department of Agriculture only recently got the funding for testing CBD and it expects to be buying CBD products to send to testing labs in early 2020.

Until then, inspectors can't find out exactly what's on store shelves, like if the amount of CBD listed on the box is what's actually inside.

In other states, that simple fact is often wrong.

"The levels of CBD is what everybody says is across the board," said Gerhardt. "There is no consistency."

Gerhardt says it's been a chaotic few months for her office at least partially because there still isn't any federal oversight for CBD products.

"It's the wild west out there with all these products on the market that have not been FDA-tested," said National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg, while talking about a new initiative, Consumers for Safe CBD.

A National Consumers League study done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner concluded that 78 percent of registered voters in Ohio have a favorable opinion of CBD and 84 percent support allowing the FDA to test and regulate CBD products.

When it comes to regulating food and drugs to make sure they are safe for consumers, Gerhardt says individual states can model their approaches off guidance and practices adopted by the FDA.

So far, the FDA is still gathering information about how CBD can be advertised and how it should be regulated and has only taken action in a handful of the most egregious cases.

The FDA declined to comment on this story, instead directing us towards this link with information about its approach to CBD.

Until the FDA steps in, experts say each state is on its own.

"You can get good product anywhere, you can get bad product anywhere," said Gerhardt. "We need to have a concerted effort to find out what's good and what's bad and let the consumer know."