CBD oil hits national stage with Target.com carrying CW Hemp products

CBD made it to the big leagues of retail.

CW Hemp, the Denver-based company that bottled up “Charlotte’s Web” cannabidiol-rich oil, landed a selection of its hemp-derived extracts on Target.com.

A quick review Thursday of Target’s website showed that four CW Hemp products — hemp capsules and oils — were posted on the Minneapolis-based retail giant’s e-commerce site. The products, which could be accessed with a search for “CBD oil,” were listed under the herbal supplements category.

While nabbing a spot on Target.com would be considered a win for most fledgling consumer products companies, the move to sell products that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration views as illegal is bold, if not practically brazen, industry and drug policy experts say.

“It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which this is legal,” said John Hudak, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who specializes in drug policy issues.

The DEA has made it clear that CBD and other cannabis-derived extracts are Schedule I substances, Hudak said. Sales of cannabis-derived products could be allowed under certain state-based marijuana programs; however, selling such products across state lines is illegal, he said.

“This may be an example of Target, a large corporation, standing up to the federal government and sort of challenging them to push back,” he said. “Target is not asking for permission here; they may be in a position to ask for forgiveness.”

Officials for Target and CW Hemp were not immediately available for comment.

In a statement, CW Hemp officials touted Target’s pick-up of the extracts as hemp-derived CBD “going mainstream.”

The sale of non-psychoactive, hemp-derived extracts on the mass-market stage comes at a time when the legality of such products has been put into question. The DEA has stated that extracts derived from cannabis — be it industrial hemp or marijuana — are federally illegal, Schedule I substances.

The position has pitted the DEA against the hemp industry and, specifically, makers of cannabinoid-rich products derived from hemp. Hemp industry advocates have argued that CBD is not an illegal substance nor something strictly for pharmaceutical use, claiming that the compound should be classified as a food.

Target sells other hemp-derived food and beauty products, including hemp-seed hearts and hemp-based milk, soaps and shampoos.

The sale of CBD-rich oils is significant for the hemp industry, said Rod Kight, a North Carolina-based corporate and bankruptcy attorney who authors the Kight on Cannabis blog on legal marijuana topics. Kight does not represent either Target or CW Hemp.

“The market for hemp-based products is exploding and it was only a matter of time before one of the big national chains took the plunge to carry them,” Kight wrote in an email to The Cannabist. “Frankly, I thought that the first chain would be a supplement or health food retailer, and am a little surprised that Target is the one.

“Both Target and CW will likely enjoy a quick first mover window of opportunity, but I think we’re likely to see a large number of national chains begin carrying hemp-based CBD products in the next three to six months.”

From a legal standpoint, this was a “bold” move by CW Hemp, Kight said, noting the company recently was named directly in a statement from the DEA about the legality of hemp, cannabis and CBD.

The DEA’s enforcement abilities likely are limited, Kight said, noting ongoing provisions in the current federal appropriations act as they apply to the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed states to institute pilot programs for production of industrial hemp, defined as containing less than 0.3 percent THC, the intoxicating component of the cannabis plant.

“The larger issue is how individual states will respond given that state law is the big unknown in this sector. I’ll be keeping a close eye on developments and won’t be surprised if Target either quietly doesn’t stock products in certain states that have been notoriously difficult in this area (such as South Dakota) and/or if we see a legal challenge in one or more states,” Kight said. “I’m absolutely confident that Target and CW took this into consideration given that, unlike private companies, Target must report to shareholders and steer clear of legal gray areas.”

This story is developing and will be updated.

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