The Kroger Co. is joining a number of retailers in Michigan and nationally that are hungry to feed the CBD craze.
The Cincinnati-based grocery store chain this week is introducing topical products like lotions, balms, oils and creams in 17 states — including in Michigan, said Rachel Hurst, corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Michigan division.
Since the federal government made industrial hemp legal in December, retailers are racing to take advantage of the growing cannabidiol market, which includes products derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa L. Many claim it has healing properties, but it has little to no concentrations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which in marijuana creates a high.
But regulations around legal use of the oil remain hazy for many. Although production of industrial hemp is legal and regulated by the U.S. Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration does not recognize CBD as an ingredient generally regarded as safe. Local and state governments also have their own regulations.
„It’s very confusing,” said Alex Leonowicz, leader of the Cannabis Industry Group at Royal Oak law firm Howard & Howard. „You run into a lot of violations, maybe not as many as cannabis, but there’s a myriad of issues and landmines that you can easily run into if you’re not careful with CBD.”
Kroger’s offerings have no THC content, Hurst said, and have been reviewed for quality and safety. Prices will range from $3.99 to $59.99. Brand names were not immediately available. The products will be available in 92 of its 120 Michigan stores, including 50 in Metro Detroit, as the company gradually introduces products to its locations.
„CBD is a naturally-occurring and non-intoxicating compound that has promising benefits and is permitted within federal and state regulations,” Hurst said in a statement.
Sticking to topicals
Major retailers like Kroger are sticking to topical products and steering clear of dietary supplements and food additives, which is where most confusion around regulations persists. Walgreens Co., CVS Health Corp. and Rite Aid Corp. all have said they are bringing topical CBD products to some of their stores this year, though not in Michigan.
Health and nutrition retailer GNC Holdings Inc. said in April it would sell CBD products in 23 states and the District of Columbia. That same month, GNC introduced products to at least 28 corporate stores in Metro Detroit, said Kevin Little, manager of the GNC store at 3031 West Grand Blvd. in Detroit.
The store sells THC-free topicals, sports creams, roll-on oils and lotions from wellness company Physician’s Grade and manufacturer Myaderm starting at $19.99, Little said.
„I’ve heard in some areas of Metro Detroit, they do really well,” he said. „People have come in interested and to ask questions, but we don’t have the demographics around here financially who can afford it for $45.”
GNC’s corporate office did not respond to requests for comment.
Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. are exploring CBD’s potential, as well, according to reports. Grand Rapids-based Meijer does not have any plans at this time to bring CBD products to its shelves, said Frank Guglielmi, corporate communications senior director.
CBD products also have popped up in medical marijuana dispensaries, yoga studios, salons, gas stations and video rental stores, too.
Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to premarket approval by the Food and Drug Administration. It, however, has said it is illegal to market CBD products as dietary supplements or as having health benefits. The administration has expressed concerns over a lack of research on CBD and safe consumption levels.
Seizure medication Epidiolex is the only drug with CBD the administration has approved. It has sent warning letters to companies that have advertised their CBD products as having health benefits for certain diseases such as cancer.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Department, based on the FDA not approving CBD for use in food, drink and animal feed, has said it is illegal to add it into those products.
„Once you’re taking the oil and putting it into something, it makes it a food or feed additive,” said Jennifer Holton, communications director for Michigan’s agriculture department. „That’s not allowed at this point.”
The FDA also has said it is unlawful to add CBD into food, animal feed products or drinks and sell it in interstate commerce. The administration, however, held a public hearing at the end of May to hear from stakeholders on this topic.
Still, several retailers in Michigan are selling CBD-infused edibles from out of state.
Signs outside saying „CBD SOLD HERE!” and „NO PRESCRIPTION NEEDED” brought Frederick Mathews through his local Family Video store’s door. The 79-year-old Livonia resident never had dabbled in anything cannabis. His daughter suggested he try CBD to help with the stiffness he felt in his finger and thumb that had forced him to stop playing his bagpipes three years ago.
Although he thought it odd for a video rental store to offer CBD products, Mathews spent about $40 for a small jar of the balm and rubs it on his wrists in the morning and at night. It has offered him relief, and he swears by it now.
„I just got to go back to my music because it helps me so much,” Mathews said. „I’m not as good as I used to be, but at least I can make a noise.”
Family Video is introducing CBD topical and lip balms as well as CBD water, oral sprays and oils, gummy bears and pet oils over the past six weeks to its Michigan stores. Twenty-three of 27 video rental stores in Metro Detroit are selling the THC-free products to those 18 years of age or older. More than half of Family Video’s stores nationwide now are selling CBD products since November.
The products are from Oklahoma-based Natural Native LLC and have a QR code on the bottles so that customers can see the test results from the product’s batch. Family Video sees it as part of its role to help educate customers on cannabidiol, said Beth Kerry, the brand’s district manager for Metro Detroit.
„Oklahoma has stricter regulations than Michigan, so it’s of greater quality,” Kerry said. „We’re also not adding CBD into anything. We’re selling it as is.”
Keith Hoogland, president of Family Video’s parent Highland Ventures Ltd., tried CBD to treat pain from tennis elbow, Kerry said.
„It is something that works for him, and he wants to share it with his customers,” she said. „We’re in the entertainment business, yes, but we’re focused on quality products for anything in life. We’re a known and trusted brand in communities.”
The products, which range from $3 chapsticks to $150 for several weeks of oil, bring in on average $1,500 per week from each location, Kerry said. Its top locations in Livonia and Waterford Township move $2,000 in product weekly.
„We rent movies for 50 cents,” she said. „Adding $1,600 to $2,000 a week, that’s huge.”
The Better Health Store in Southeast Michigan and Lansing has seen its CBD sales grow every month since introducing the products last spring, said Better Health President Tedd Handlesman. CBD-infused coffee, teas, chocolates and more all come from companies outside the state of Michigan because they are larger and more reputable, he said.
„We’re not making CBD brownies in our bakery,” Handlesman said. „We’re waiting to see what happens with the FDA ruling. We’re trying to tread carefully. We’ve got a lot of momentum going. We’ve really never had a category of product explode like that before, and I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”
When it comes to enforcement, the FDA referred to a statement on its website that it „considers many factors in deciding whether or not to initiate an enforcement action. Those factors include, among other things, agency resources and the threat to the public health. FDA also may consult with its federal and state partners in making decisions about whether to initiate a federal enforcement action.”
For now, it appears the number of retailers selling CBD products will grow. With more than 100 other cannabinoid extracts from cannabis plants identified, however, further discussions of what can and cannot be sold could go on for years, said Matthew Abel, a senior partner at Detroit-based Cannabis Counsel.
„The federal government,” he said, „has kind of pinned themselves into a corner on this.”