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Hemp farmers, retailers pounce on market for CBD products

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A jar of hemp sits next to a 1-gram
A jar of hemp sits nexts to a 1-gram "pre roll" inside of Stigma Hemp in Minneapolis on Thursday. Stigma sells a variety of CBD products and is the first store of its kind in Minneapolis.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Applications to grow hemp in the state of Minnesota have increased steeply since the start of 2019, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Congress passed the 2018 farm bill in December, which legalized industrial hemp as a crop plant, used as fiber, grain or oil.

Hemp is described as a cousin of marijuana, with much lower levels of THC — the chemical that produces a high.

CBD oil extracted from hemp is sometimes marketed to help with problems like chronic pain and anxiety.

CBD oils and CBD massages are some of the products and services available at Stigma Hemp, which opened Thursday in the hip and vibrant North Loop neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Store owner Josh Maslowski acknowledges people are buying CBD products from a number of sources, but his shop offers an alternative.

"The timing of it had certainly something to do with the farm bill," Maslowski said. "But the idea of a retail store was always something I wanted to do because I believe that people have a lot of questions and they want to be able to look somebody in the eye versus just buying it online where you don't trust exactly who's making it."

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey attended the store opening with the goal of encouraging the conversation around legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey chats with Jason Green of Growfilm.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey chats with Jason Green of Growfilm while checking out a hemp plant inside of Stigma Hemp in Minneapolis on Thursday. Growfilm is a Northfield, Minn.-based company that manufactures lighting for indoor agriculture.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"Minneapolis is a forward-thinking city, and yes, CBD is part of that forward-thinking vision," Frey said.

The Minnesota Hemp Association reports there are at least five companies operating stores that only sell hemp and CBD products in the Twin Cities. Some spas and grocery stores also carry CBD products.

This week, Walgreens announced it will sell CBD creams, patches and sprays in nearly 1,500 stores across the country.

Whitney Place, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said farmers are responding to the new markets made possible by legal hemp.

"It's no longer considered a controlled substance. Therefore, our farmers can qualify for federal programs like specialty crop grants or even crop insurance," she said.

Minnesota's hemp pilot program that was federally approved in 2016 included six participants who harvested about 40 acres of hemp.  

So far in 2019, the state says it has received 370 applications for nearly 6,000 proposed outside acres.

The amount of proposed space for indoor growing has also significantly increased from 55,000 square feet last year to nearly 700,000 square feet so far this year — or nearly twelve times more growing space.

According to state officials, those who grow indoors are growing for CBD.

But Cody Wiberg sees a problem with a burgeoning CBD industry in Minnesota. The executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy said his department doesn't have the resources to pursue legal action unless specific complaints arise against CBD companies.

Stigma Hemp founder Josh Maslowski holds a hemp "pre roll."
Stigma Hemp founder Josh Maslowski holds a hemp "pre roll" with a gold tip that he hopes will help distinguish them from marijuana cigarettes inside the Minneapolis store on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"We hope that either Congress or the Legislature will put some minimal requirements in place so when people buy a product and it says 5 milligrams of CBD, they're relatively assured that it has 5 milligrams of CBD and that it doesn't have contaminants," Wiberg said.

The Food and Drug Administration still considers CBD products largely illegal.

Wiberg says nobody is regulating CBD-selling companies and the FDA has specifically stated CBD cannot be sold as a dietary supplement.

Therefore, he says products may not contain what they claim. It's also unclear how these products interact with other drugs and medicines.

"CBD is pharmacologically active, it acts in the body like it's a drug and it is metabolized by certain enzymes in the liver that also metabolize roughly 50 to 60 percent of all the other drugs that are out there," Wiberg said.

Although one drug containing CBD oil has been approved by the FDA to treat epilepsy in children, health claims surrounding the product have yet to be substantiated.

Jim Zimmerman, who runs another CBD business based in Minnetonka called C4Life, said he is looking forward to more research funding that can prove anecdotal evidence about the health benefits of CBD oil now that hemp is legal to produce.

"Clinical research really wasn't allowed to be done," he said.

Zimmerman said reputable businesses often use third-party testing to check their products and use American-grown hemp.

Josh Maslowski of Stigma Hemp said he has applied with the state to begin producing hemp for CBD products in Minneapolis this fall. For now, he uses hemp grown in Kentucky.