Your CBD Store closes May 31/ Credit: Needham Observer

After close of business tomorrow, the last day of May, the Your CBD Store space at 1096 Great Plain Ave. will sit empty. It will stay that way until a new tenant is found to fill the remaining 15 months on the lease held since 2019 by store owner Anna Schickel, who will still be on the hook for the monthly rent.

The answer to “How did this happen?” is quite complicated — as are many questions around the regulation of products containing hemp-derived CBD. It centers on the legal status of the hemp-infused products sold at dozens of Your CBD Store locations throughout the country and whether the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill created a flourishing new hemp industry or a proverbial gray market estimated at $28 billion in the U.S.

A Brookings Institute analysis published after passage of the 2018 bill cast doubt on assertions made by hemp proponents that it opened the door for a wide array of new hemp-based products. “One big myth that exists about the Farm Bill is that cannabidiol (CBD)— a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis — is legalized,” it said. “But the legislation does not legalize CBD generally.”

Nevertheless, hemp products have become ubiquitous, and their regulation starts with federal rules and guidelines established by the Food and Drug Administration. State agencies then develop policies that guide regulation and enforcement that occur at the local level, where resources are often limited.

In Massachusetts, nearly all of these issues seem to end up on the desk of Cheryl Sbarra, an attorney and the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB), which provides local boards of health with education, technical assistance and resource development.

Sbarra is familiar with what is occurring in Needham, having participated in a Feb. 6 meeting held to evaluate the local situation. “Issues around regulating CBD are playing out everywhere,” she said.

“The edible and drinkable products that contain either CBD or a synthetic hemp are considered adulterated food products because CBD and any other synthetic hemp are not approved food additives,” she said of the issues at play in Needham and elsewhere. “So they are, by law, illegal because they’re adulterated products.”

At the same time, she said the need for regulatory action is not always obvious due to the variety of product offerings, distribution sources and points of sale. The products can present as food, dietary supplements or beverages. Many are offered via liquor distributors and can be purchased at convenience stores, in bars and restaurants, or at gas stations — often a particularly difficult venue for regulation.

“We’re all over the gamut when it comes to what products are out there, what are legal ones, what aren’t legal ones,” Sbarra said. “But we know that edible products are not legal. They violate the food code.”

The fact these products are being regulated as “food” is crucial. “There’s absolutely no regulation on these products except for the food code and there’s no enforcement unless you are a local board of health who has the legal authority to enforce the food code,” she says.

“Now, the challenge for the boards of health is that it’s like Whac-A-Mole. You don’t know what products you’re going to find, when and where.”

Sbarra said the local boards of health she works with could use both guidance and support in managing an issue that is increasingly becoming problematic as CBD products proliferate. “Everything falls on the boards of health,” Sbarra said. “And, the boards of health are not resourced sufficiently to take this on. But they’re the only ones right now that can do it.”

“Some of these boards of health are considering just banning these products because they’re thinking that it’s going to be easier for them to ban them than to cite them for violations of the food code.”

The approach in Westford

“It’s very convoluted, even when you talk to town counsel and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health attorneys,” said Rae Dick, health director for the town of Westford, which is also home to a Your CBD Store.

“Ordinarily, we wouldn’t even know or go into the store because it doesn’t have a permit through the health department,” she said. “But we received a complaint from another store that is in the same plaza a while ago that they were selling flavored products.”

Dick said the visit uncovered some products that were not legal for sale. “There was a shelf here, a shelf there. That kind of thing.

“After speaking with her attorneys, the store (owner) decided to pull the products. So, in our case with our CBD store, she no longer sells food products, and that’s because of the FDA (regulations).”

The elimination of the food products did not lead to the closure of the Westford store, as was the case in Needham.
“We’re not in the business of going out to tell people to take things off the shelves or to close them, by any means,” Dick said. “But once we receive a complaint it doesn’t matter if it’s CBD or any other store. If you’re selling something that’s not allowed under your permit, we are required to follow and make sure they pull it.”

Westford’s logic and actions were similar to how Needham acted last month, when an investigation was spurred by a concern raised in early 2024 by a liquor store operator who had been advised against offering products that violated FDA rules. The operator reported that other outlets were selling similar products.

Needham’s investigators found that Your CBD Store was offering products not approved by the FDA. They sought Needham Town Counsel Chris Heep’s guidance on how to act on that information.

“What appears to be clear is that both the FDA’s current guidance and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s current guidance state that CBD cannot lawfully be added to food and cannot be sold as a dietary supplement,” Heep wrote in an email response to Observer inquiries.

“Without there being any lawful status under which these products may be sold to consumers, the health division directed the store to remove those products from its shelves.”

Dick said she feels for her Needham colleagues. “The last thing we want to do is go in and alienate any business owner or take something out and tell them they can’t sell it,” she said. “I feel bad because, you know, the store owner tells you how many clients are seeing benefits.  Unfortunately I’m only coming in from an enforcement piece at this time.”

State legislative committees to hold hearing

The regulatory ball of confusion has gotten the attention of a pair of state legislative committees who Sbarra said plan to hold an oversight hearing on June 11. She has been told its intent is “to hear testimony on this issue of intoxicating, synthetically derived hemp.”

Sbarra said she has been asked to testify at the hearing, which is being organized by two separate joint committees — Cannabis Control and Agriculture. She expects to be joined by representatives of other state agencies and departments involved with regulating cannabis and hemp-derived products.

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