CBD products are everywhere in Texas since the state legalized hemp. Experts warn: buyer beware.
Much of the sudden spike in popularity is thanks to a Texas law last year that legalized hemp, the plant from which CBD is derived.
In 2017, business was slow for Sarah Kerver. She was a sales rep for a Colorado-based company trying to push hemp and CBD products in Texas. But customers were apprehensive.
“No one wanted to touch [CBD]. No one wanted to talk about it. No one was interested in carrying this product in any sort of spa or retail space,” Kerver said.
Today, the market for CBD, or cannabidiol, is exploding. Stores are popping up across the state selling tinctures and topicals. It’s being mixed into smoothies and coffee at cafes. Spas are advertising CBD massages and therapies. And much of the sudden spike in popularity is thanks to a Texas law last year that legalized hemp, the plant from which CBD is derived.
“You go anywhere now, and you find something that says ‘CBD’ on it,” said Kerver, who’s now in talks with Austin distributors interested in carrying her CBD product line, called 1937 Apothecary.
But buyer beware, experts warn. Anyone can sell CBD in Texas. Many of the products are advertised as natural alternatives to prescription medications and make unfounded claims to treat conditions like chronic pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, diabetes and psychosis. None of these claims are recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
And because of lax labeling and licensing regulations, unsuspecting consumers may not actually know what they’re buying.
“Unless you really know that it’s something reputable, I would say to be wary because you don’t really know that it is even CBD,” Kerver said.
In 2018, the federal government passed a new Farm Bill legalizing hemp and derivatives, like CBD, with less than 0.3% of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. Hemp and marijuana are both part of the cannabis plant family, but while marijuana is rich in THC and produces a high, hemp contains only traces of the psychoactive compounds and is richer in CBD.
In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill legalizing hemp and bringing state policy in line with federal law.
Confusion on the part of law enforcement has led to the wrongful arrests of some in possession of CBD or hemp even after the Texas law went into effect. Still, the policy change is an important step on the way to allowing Texans to partake without fear of reprisal, according to Lisa Pittman, a lawyer on the Texas Department of Agriculture’s industrial hemp advisory council.
Because Kerver launched her line before the Texas bill, she’s seen firsthand how changes in the law have led to evolving attitudes in Texas about the products. Previously, she was able to sell Colorado CBD products before the federal government legalized hemp because of the 2014 Farm Bill, which started a pilot program for participating states to grow industrial hemp.
“There’s been more media around it since Texas has come on board, definitely,” Kerver said. “Texans are becoming more educated about it and much more open to it.”
Industry leaders say they can’t calculate the exact number of new CBD businesses that have opened in Texas over the past year — in part because the Texas Department of State Health Services won’t implement licensing requirements until early this year — though anecdotally, many say they’ve seen an uptick.
The Austin Chamber of Commerce counted at least three CBD-related relocations or expansions since the bill passed last summer, creating about 140 new jobs in the emerging sector. But the list, which is compiled from public media announcements and deals the chamber is involved in, isn’t comprehensive.
Sisters Shayda and Sydney Torabi founded Restart CBD in September 2018, just before the Farm Bill passed. Sydney Torabi said the changes in the law have made business run more smoothly.
The two originally intended to operate the business exclusively online but decided to open a brick-and-mortar location in Austin after having difficulty with several online payment companies, from mom-and-pop merchants to giants like PayPal, that didn’t want anything to do with cannabis.