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The Corporate Cannabinoid: CBD Arrives at Walgreens & CVS

CBD Arrives at Walgreens & CVS
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The Corporate Cannabinoid: CBD Arrives at Walgreens & CVS

The news that CBD products will be sold soon at Walgreens and CVS drugstore chains can be seen as further progress for cannabis normalization — or further indication of corporate control in the legal industry.

Walgreens is about to start selling CBD creams, patches and sprays in some 1,500 stores coast-to-coast, per an announcement from the national drugstore chain this week. The cannabinoid-based products will be available at select stores in Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vermont, South Carolina, Illinois and Indiana. 

“This product offering is in line with our efforts to provide a wider range of accessible health and wellbeing products and services to best meet the needs and preferences of our customers,” Walgreens spokesman Brian Faith said in an email to CNBC, which first broke the news. The company declined to specify which brands it will be offering.

And Walgreens is not the first. Competitor chain CVS introduced CBD-infused topicals, including creams and salves, to stores in eight states earlier in March. In a statement reported by CNBC, CVS emphasized that it is not selling any CBD-based dietary supplements or food additives. “We have partnered with CBD product manufacturers that are complying with applicable laws and that meet CVS’s high standards for quality,” a company spokesman said.

The company Curaleaf was named as the supplier of CBD products to CVS. This nationally operating corporation has been making some splashy headlines of late. The Miami New Times reports that it has just opened the country’s first drive-thru cannabis dispensary in the Florida city. It is also among the first companies to offer actual herbaceous cannabis at dispensaries in the Sunshine State, as newly allowed under Florida law.

As Investor’s Business Daily points out, both Walgreens and CVS are selling CBD products from just a narrow share of their total outlets. The 1,500 participating Walgreens stores and the 800 CVS stores are somewhat of a pittance compared to the companies’ total footprint of about 10,000 outlets each. But the move is certainly a sign of fast-changing cultural norms.

The Legal and Political Implications  

The CVS statement that the company will only be offering CBD topicals and not ingestibles appears to be an implicit acknowledgement of the continuing technical illegality of many CBD-infused products, despite the descheduling of hemp-derived CBD under the federal Farm Bill passed late last year. 

This is due to the fact that the Food & Drug Administration is responsible for regulating food ingredients and additives, as well as those in drugs and cosmetics. And since the FDA has not yet approved any cannabinoids for such uses, any such CBD (even if it is hemp-derived) application remains illegal. Contrary to the implication of the CVS statement, this would appear to apply to topicals too, as they may legitimately be considered “cosmetics.”

These moves by Walgreens and CVS will certainly put more pressure on the FDA to finally update its regulations in light of the changes to federal law under the Farm Bill. Until then, however, these big national chains may be exploiting what has been called a legal “grey zone.”

The development nonetheless points to rapid normalization of cannabis in mainstream culture. This is something advocates have long been working toward, of course. But it also opens new contradictions.

Something of a scramble is underway by pharmaceutical companies to secure patents for the various curative properties of CBD and the associated products and procedures. This has further fueled fears of “corporate cannabis,” with some activists raising concerns about the privatization of cannabinoids and their applications. 

There is certainly an ominous paradox in the reality that cannabinoid products are coming to corporate chains just as California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced plans to send the state’s National Guard into the Emerald Triangle to assist in the crackdown on unlicensed cannabis growers — a move reminiscent of the very militarized eradication campaigns that made prohibition unpopular in the Golden State in the first place. 

Corporate America is reaping the benefits of opening political space for cannabis, while all too little has changed for many small producers. 

TELL US, would you buy a CBD product from a corporate chain store? 

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