Products at Your CBD Store/ Credit: Needham Observer

Your CBD Store on Great Plain Avenue will close at the end of the month due to an enforcement action by the town’s public health division.

The shop’s owner, Anna Schickel, notified her customers this week that, “We have received notice from the Needham Health Department that we are required to stop selling ingestible CBD by Friday, May 31st. 

“Sadly, this will be our last day in business, despite having a thriving business and 15 months left on the lease.”

The store has operated since late 2019.

The action is the culmination of several weeks of back-and-forth among the public health division, multiple state and federal entities, Schickel and representatives of Sunmed, a national company that provides the inventory for Schickel and at least six other Your CBD Stores in Massachusetts.

It was discussed at some length at last week’s board of health meeting. Members and town staff expressed regret about having to order Schickel to stop selling products that require customers to ingest cannabidiol, better known as CBD.

“We don’t feel we have a ton of discretion,” said Tim McDonald, director of health and human services.“Once we’re made aware of something we do have to enforce it.” 

Health boards are responsible for enforcing this issue in Massachusetts. To date, Needham appears to be the only community to have taken action on this particular concern.

Tara Gurge, assistant public health director, provided copies of multiple communications she had with various regulatory bodies that informed the decision to take the action, including guidance from town counsel Chris Heep.

Gurge said the department received reports about products infused with both CBD and THC being offered at multiple Needham retail stores, including liquor stores.

Because CBD is FDA-approved as a medication (Epidiolex, which has been proven effective for severe seizure disorders), it cannot be legally added to food or sold as a dietary supplement. That would require the FDA specifically to determine that it’s safe to do so, a step it has not taken.

“I had a liquor store contact me about a product that they (distributors) were pushing on him and he asked if this is allowed. It was a THC seltzer,” she said.

Subsequent investigation by the town’s health inspectors led them to Your CBD Store, where they found products that were not allowed for sale.

The enforcement action was communicated to Schickel in an April 8 letter, directing her “to cease and desist all sale of edible CBD products, beverage CBD products, CBD tinctures and water-soluble CBD drops at or from your location.” 

Schickel has said the list comprises the vast majority of her inventory and she does not have a viable operation without those products.

“I’ve done a fair amount of homework on this and talked to Tara (Gurge),” said board member Ed Cosgrove. “It just seems to me that at this point we really had no choice but to order that those products be removed from the store. It’s pretty clear at the federal and the state level that they shouldn’t be sold.”

“The regulatory system in the United States requires that you have to prove that something is safe,” McDonald explained of the FDA’s very high standard for product safety.

The FDA has noted safety concerns relative to CBD, and there is not consensus that CBD products are effective. Some research suggests CBD holds promise for treating conditions such as  anxiety, sleep, pain and addiction. But the Center for Dietary Supplements Research says there’s very little evidence proving effectiveness for conditions other than some pediatric seizures.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, nearly 200 clinical trials related to CBD are examining its effectiveness to treat PTSD, cancer, schizophrenia, cognitive impairment, ADHD, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions.

But none of those has produced findings that have spurred the FDA to act. Instead, it has deferred to Congress, which has yet to produce any legislation or other guidance.

That vacuum has contributed to Schickel having to wind down her operation and seek someone to take over the balance of her lease. She said her attorney advised her not to comment on the issue.

She did address the board of health at the outset of the meeting where the action was discussed.

“Our store provides an access point where the product is lab tested and really safe,” she said. “It’s all organic and uses clean extraction methods. Rather than something they might order online where there’s a lot of variance in quality.”

Schickel has said in the past that she became an advocate for CBD products after they eased chronic pain she had suffered as a result of sports-related injuries and spinal stenosis.

She told the board she was afflicted with spinal stenosis and herniated discs. She said side effects from prescription medications made her ill and she discontinued their use after just a few weeks. After 15 years of chronic, severe back pain, she said taking hemp-infused CBD allowed her to resume her former level of physical activity.

The subject line of the email message to her customer list announcing her closure: “They want you to buy weed, not CBD.”

Clarification: This story was edited post-publication regarding Anna Schickel’s public comments at the April 12 Board of Health meeting.

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