The proliferation of CBD shops in the Tulsa metro may appear to correlate with Oklahoma legalizing medical marijuana, but advocates say a growth in the local cannabidiol market was inevitable regardless.
Isaac Caviness is a manager at Hemp Rx, a CBD store that opened last month near 81st Street and Memorial Drive. He estimates that almost a dozen stores featuring primarily CBD products — which are made up of cannabis-derived ingredients but without the high of THC — now operate in northeast Oklahoma. This time last year, that number was about two.
With the passage of State Question 788 in June, proponents of medical marijuana have fielded questions about whether entrepreneurs are opening CBD shops with the intention of more easily transitioning to marijuana businesses.
Caviness, who recently stepped down as president of activist group Green the Vote, said his Hemp Rx store intends to acquire a medical marijuana business license to sell products with THC in addition to those without the intoxicating chemical.
However, Caviness downplayed the notion that the anticipation of SQ 788 compelled his business and others to open. He said Hemp Rx would succeed regardless of legal medical marijuana because of CBD’s health benefits.
CBD products are used to help alleviate chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, cancer-related symptoms and a host of other issues.
“With the products that we have — and I’m sure all the stores feel the same — we have customers who talk about how much they’re helping them,” Caviness said. “So whether we have full access to the plant or not, it meant a lot to us to be able to have a good third-party-tested product that people could find relief with.”
He said the CBD industry in Tulsa has been lagging behind other large population centers and pointed to the Oklahoma City metro, where the shops are much more plentiful. A lot of Tulsans, he said, would regularly drive back and forth from Oklahoma City due to the lack of options here.
Joshua Lewelling, co-founder and board member of Green the Vote, said the rising number of stores can be explained by how people are starting to see the potential in CBD and understand its effects.
“I’ve been standing in CBD shops when a patient or client would come in and say their doctor had told them to come down and get educated,” Lewelling said. “Even the doctors are coming onto it, as well.”
He believes many of the businesses do not intend to obtain medical marijuana licenses, which are subject to much stricter regulations, but would continue to focus on the growing market for CBD.
Although the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs does not regulate CBD stores, the state agency has received calls from business owners inquiring about the effects of SQ 788 on the CBD industry.
Some expressed interest in branching out to medical marijuana and wanted to know what kind of license they would need, OBN spokesman Mark Woodward said. Others had no desire to sell marijuana but wanted to stay aware of regulations.
Under Oklahoma law, cannabidiol is legal to buy, sell or use as long as it has minimal THC — no more than 0.3 percent — or is THC-free. Federal law hasn’t exactly legalized CBD, but an Oklahoma lawmaker who helped craft the legislation here said he was told that, although the Drug Enforcement Administration still considers CBD to be marijuana and therefore federally illegal, cracking down on a non-intoxicating cannabinoid isn’t a priority for the DEA.
Woodward said there are varying opinions on how SQ 788 affects CBD, but it appears to him that the law would allow for sales of CBD products with higher THC concentrations.
“In our opinion, looking at 788, which clearly would trump any existing state law, (CBD containing THC) now could be sold in Oklahoma if you have a Health Department license and a registration from us to sell marijuana.”
The Tulsa American Shaman CBD shop that opened near 55th Place and Mingo Road last year has no intention of selling THC products. Store manager Donnie Lewis said the American Shaman franchise company may be looking into opening separate locations for medical marijuana, but they won’t be sold together.
That’s because the shops, which have multiple locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, market themselves toward senior citizens. Unlike some other retailers with CBD products, Tulsa American Shaman doesn’t sell marijuana paraphernalia or plaster pot leaf stickers on the walls.
“We will never mingle the two because as soon as you bring that flower into a store like ours, there’s going to be a chunk of your demographic that will never set foot in your store again,” Lewis said. “They won’t.”
Further, he believes the benefits of THC are much more limited than those of CBD, which he says can help regulate blood pressure and lower blood-sugar levels.
Lewis insists that his business will see no harm from not selling medical marijuana because the demand for CBD is too high.
“Some people don’t want the high every day,” he said. “That’s who we’re going after, the people who are looking for help but without the high.”