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Decision to seize CBD products began with call from postal workers, AMCO says

By Shannon Ballard Photojournalist: Rachel McPherron - 8:17 PM February 10, 2017

Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office (AMCO) says there’s more to the story about why it seized several thousand-dollars’ worth of inventory from pot shops around the state.

Acting director Sara Chambers said it all started with a call from the U.S. Postal Service.

AMCO investigators were asked to come take a closer look at a leaking package containing over a 1,000 vials of CBD (cannabidiol) oil, as well as 20 unmarked vials.

Unmarked bottles of a liquid substance. Courtesy Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office

Chambers said it was a clear violation of the law.

“Seeing 20 unmarked vials of an unknown substance that was being packaged to a marijuana retailer was alarming,” Chambers said.

State law requires all marijuana products to be tested, manufactured and packaged in a certain way.

To mitigate what she calls a health and safety risk, Chambers said AMCO enforcement officers were sent into marijuana retail stores across the state to seize all CBD products.

“They don’t meet Alaska’s legal requirements for sale in the state,” Chambers said.

AMCO officers visited seven stores in the Anchorage area, one in Kenai, one in Houston and two in Wasilla.

“They came, grabbed my stuff and left with very little explanation of what was going to happen next,” said Caleb Saunders, owner and CEO of Green Jar, a marijuana retail store located in Wasilla that was raided by regulators Thursday.

Saunders said the regulators told him this would not impact his license. They also said he would be receiving a notice of violation and that the items “would probably be returned next week.”

“When we spoke with retailers, a few were not aware that CBD oil was a regulated product. However, two admitted that they knew it wasn’t legal and were selling it anyway,” said AMCO Chief Investigator James Hoelscher.

When news broke of Thursday’s raids, many people, like CBD distributor Aaron Ralph, were shocked.

“My initial reaction was why?” Ralph said.

He said CBD is a non-psychoactive hemp product often used to manage pain and contains very little THC.

“It is protected under the Federal Farm Bill of 2014 and then also the appropriation act, which states that it can be transported, manufactured and sold anywhere,” Ralph said.

But Chambers said that doesn’t make CBD legal in Alaska.

“It (state law) very specifically says that marijuana concentrates coming from the marijuana plant are considered marijuana product and are therefore regulated by the state,” Chambers said. “The state currently does not have an exemption for industrial hemp or oils that contain a low amount of THC or CBD.”

There’s a bill being introduced this session that would change that, but as of right now the state says CBD cannot be sold legally in retail marijuana stores.

It’s not hard to find CBD products in other places, such as grocery stores. Chambers said that’s not legal either but right now it only has the resources to make sure local pot shops are following the rules.

However, some stores, such as Natural Pantry, have decided to pull the product themselves.

There is a hearing scheduled for next Friday, when the Marijuana Control Board will decide if seized CBD will be destroyed or given back to retailers. Regardless, the state says they will not be able to legally sell it.

KTVA 11’s Shannon Ballard can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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