Cheyenne residents question sale of hemp products

Rachelle and David Tabor pose with some of the hemp-based products for sale inside their new Cheyenne business Natural Wellness CBD. (Photo by Jacob Byk, Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

By Jonna Lorenz

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE – Natural Wellness CBD has drawn attention with bright flags advertising its hemp-based products, including tinctures, creams and vape cartridges, for sale in Cheyenne.

The new shop opened Jan. 11 at 307 E. 20th St., leaving some Cheyenne residents wondering, “Wait. Is this legal?”

But Mark Thompson was glad to welcome the new business to his neighborhood.

“I think it’s great,” said Thompson, 60, who uses cannabidiol (CBD) products to manage arthritis pain. “I think it will help a lot of people. We’ve got such an opioid crisis in this country. If we can get people on this stuff and get them off pain pills, it will make a big difference.”

Thompson said he bought a CBD cream in Colorado before the new store opened just down the street from him.

“I think it works better than the stuff I got in Colorado,” he said of Natural Wellness CBD’s products. “I won’t go back to Colorado to get it. I’ll get it right here. And the thing about it is they’re really great people. They sit down and tell you all about it.”

Setting up shop

The store is the second opened by Rachelle and Dave Tabor of Greeley, Colorado, who said they entered the booming CBD market with a store in Greeley in November after doctors advised Rachelle Tabor to give CBD a try.

Rachelle Tabor said she had been sick for 25 years, diagnosed with a slate of health conditions including lupus, Hashimoto’s disease and fibromyalgia. Like many people who are wary of hemp products, Rachelle Tabor said she resisted the idea at first.

“When you’re sick all the time and you hurt all the time, you want to be as normal as you can,” she said. “The last thing you want to do is drink or do something that will get you high.”

Rachelle Tabor said she decided to try CBD after learning that hemp doesn’t include the psychoactive properties of its cousin marijuana, which is rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“The first time I took it was the first time my husband heard me say I felt good in 25 years,” Rachelle Tabor said.

Dr. David Armstrong, a rheumatologist at UCHealth Cheyenne Medical Specialists, said anyone interested in trying CBD products should be sure to tell their doctors and start with the lowest dose.

Little scientific research has been done to test the therapeutic claims of CBD, which has been touted as a treatment for countless ailments ranging from acne to cancer, and using CBD products involves a “buyer beware” approach.

Armstrong said many of his patients ask about CBD products, and about half of those who try CBD report benefits.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement,” Armstrong said. “Whether or not it’s premature, I couldn’t tell you. But we are having some folks who are seeing benefits, which is tough to argue with.”

He advises patients to be particularly cautious of products with high levels of THC, which carry a greater potential for risks and could result in positive drug tests.

Law of the land

Hemp and marijuana both are cannabis plants, but hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent THC and can’t get a person high, according to the Brookings Institution.

Business owners like the Tabors are quick to point out the difference.

“Saying they’re the same plant is like saying squash and zucchini are the same,” Rachelle Tabor said.

But Wyoming law enforcement officials don’t make a distinction between hemp and marijuana.

“If hemp contains THC, we view it the same way we view marijuana,” said Matt Waldock, commander at the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.

Keen to stay on the right side of the law, the Tabors met with Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak before opening their store. As a result of that meeting, they left products that contain small amounts of THC in Colorado.

“It appears to be legal, from what we can tell now,” Kozak said of the store. “The owners are very cooperative and willing to communicate with us and work with us. So far, it’s been a positive relationship.”

Laws related to hemp and hemp products are changing rapidly.

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation issued a press release last April reminding the public that it is illegal in the state to possess, use or distribute any product containing THC without a hemp extract registration card, issued by the Wyoming Department of Health.

Since that time, the federal Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 was signed into law in December, removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.

Federal farm bill

While hemp is no longer illegal under federal law, the law preserves the authority of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate how products containing CBD are sold. Of particular concern are claims of therapeutic benefits, according to an FDA statement released in December.

It also remains illegal in Wyoming to possess or distribute products with any amount of THC, DCI’s Waldock said.

Knowing exactly what is in a product can be difficult, and CBD is being incorporated into countless products showing up in grocery stores, convenience stores and pet stores.

“We’ve purchased CBD oils from different stores. Some of the labels say they have no THC in them, and when we test them in our crime lab, they do, and vice versa,” Waldock said. “I always tell people to be cautious of that. If it says it has no THC in it, that does not mean it doesn’t.”

Kozak said authorities likely will test the products at Natural Wellness CBD from time to time to verify that they don’t include THC. But the police department is more concerned about substances that cause impairment.

“As far as we as an agency are concerned, it’s kind of on the lower end of our priorities,” said Kevin Malatesta, public information officer for the Cheyenne Police Department. “We’re not writing out search warrants to go search people’s houses for CBD oil.”

Waldock was similarly casual, saying investigators are more concerned about methamphetamine.

“Definitely times are changing, and we’ll follow whatever our legislators tell us we need to follow and move forward,” Waldock said.

Those changes could be coming soon.

Wyoming House Bill 171, which would provide for hemp production and processing in the state, passed the House of Representatives last week and is awaiting a review in the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Tabors are watching that bill closely, believing it will open the door for them to sell other hemp-based products that contain up to 0.3 percent THC in Cheyenne.

“This store would be able to sell hemp products that are below that amount, more than likely,” said Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Eklund said that “cannabidiol isn’t something you should be too concerned about,” but added that legalizing anything above 0.3 percent THC content “won’t happen in Wyoming anytime soon.”

He said the bill, which has received wide support and passed the House unanimously, is meant to be an economic tool for the state, allowing farmers and ranchers to compete with other states and plant hemp as early as this spring, if the legislation is enacted soon enough.

The Tabors make many of their own products with hemp grown and manufactured in Weld County, Colorado.

“We know from seed up everything that’s in our products,” Rachelle Tabor said, adding that their stores keep reports from third-party testing on all of their products, along with the crude, distillates and isolates used in them.

The Cheyenne store has been busy, she said, estimating that about 100 people have signed up for its loyalty program for discounts on products.

“We like helping people,” Dave Tabor said. “We like seeing the relief on people’s faces.”