Greenville CBD retailers are clearing shelves amid crackdown on hemp products with THC

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Greenville CBD retailers are clearing shelves amid crackdown on hemp products with THC

Greenville County Crackdown on CBD Products Raises Concerns Among Business Owners.

Owners of CBD businesses are looking over their shoulders after a Greenville County law enforcement initiative to crack down on hemp products was announced in early February.

During a Feb. 7 press conference at the Greenville County Courthouse, 13th Circuit Solicitor Walter Wilkins and Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis announced a drug enforcement unit will begin cracking down on retailers selling CBD delta-9 products over 0.3% THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis.

Wilkins and Lewis also announced those selling products with delta-8 and delta-10 compounds of cannabis will also risk prosecution, although these compounds fall into a murkier legal category. In 2018, U.S. Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act or “Farm Bill” that removed hemp products as a controlled substance, which means any cannabis derivatives with less than 0.3% THC are federally legal.

"At the end of the day, if it gets you high, it's illegal in South Carolina, bottom line," Wilkins said. 

CBD retailers aren’t taking any chances, as many in Greenville County now are having to clear their shelves of any items that put them at risk of prosecution. 

"It has been a precautionary measure just to make sure I'm following in compliance with what is being deemed illegal," Rudy DiBridge, owner of Full Life CBD in Greenville, said.

The Greenville Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, the multi-agency team assigned to the crackdown, will be testing the products to make sure businesses do not have any controlled substances.

The drug enforcement unit, which includes the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, Greenville Police Department, and other police departments around the county will begin sending letters to the CBD sellers warning them to stop the distributing the products.

Law enforcement says products are causing “health crisis,” but what is legal? 

Hemp is the Cannabis sativa L plant that is legal on the federal level. Cannabinoids, like delta-8, 9 and 10, are extracted from the plant to create hemp products. A 2021 opinion from the South Carolina Attorney General’s clarified that under state law delta-8 or delta-9 products over 0.3% THC are illegal under the state’s 2018 Hemp Farming Act that legalized regulated hemp products.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, delta-8 THC products often have harmful chemicals that are needed to convert hemp into cannabinoids.

During the press conference on Feb. 9, Wilkins and Lewis said they wanted to put the public and retailers on notice about the crackdown.

Wilkins said that law enforcement will be getting products suspected to be in violation from stores and will test them. If they find a violation, they’ll seize all related products along with the retailer’s money. Wilkins said the retailer will then be prosecuted.

Officials said the operation is not targeted at individual citizens. Wilkins noted that because it’s a long and expensive process to examine CBD items, the focus was mainly on distributors of high amounts of illegal CBD products.

During the press conference, officials said that the crackdown stems from tips to law enforcement that Greenville residents and children are suffering from psychosis after taking the synthetic delta-8 and 10 CBD products and thinking it is a legal delta-9 CBD variant. Residents also reported delta-9 products with more THC than the legal amount, causing Lewis and Wilkins to describe the situation as a "health crisis."

"There's two sort of silos of charges. We could charge them that this stuff is marijuana under the definition. If you have zero to 10 pounds of it, it's five years, 10 pounds to 100 pounds it’s 10 years. Then you have THC, it's just possession or distribution of a Scheduled 1 drug. That carries zero to five years, and the second offense is zero to ten, but I can charge him for every single item," Wilkins said.

Attorney Robert Ianaurio, of Ianaurio Law in Greenville, noted that the legality of prosecuting retailers with delta-8 or 10 products is murky because of various interpretations of federal law that make variants of the two compounds legal. 

"It comes down to an interpretation of the laws to Delta-8 or Delta-10 being legal. I hate to say that this is going to end up as a giant legal conflict,” Ianaurio said.

During the press conference, Wilkins said thousands of pounds of CBD products have been seized over the past couple of months. Meanwhile, Lewis estimated that hundreds of businesses around Greenville will be receiving a warning letter about CBD products.

According to a warrant reviewed by The Greenville News, in late 2023, GCSO charged a business owner with drug trafficking marijuana. Law enforcement found that delta-9 CBD products had more than 0.3% THC in them. 

Since the press conference, there have been five stores raided, according to Lt. Ryan Flood with GCSO.

Impacts that it will have on CBD stores in Greenville 

The drug enforcement unit is targeting all CBD product distributors, whether it is gas stations, large chain hemp stores, or locally owned hemp stores.

Emily McSherry of Cannabis Forward, a nonprofit CBD education and advocacy organization based in Greenville, said that there are two sides to people affected by the initiative, retailers knowingly distributing illegal CBD products and store owners not knowing what is in their products.

She said some business owners who have noticed sales dwindle are using CBD products over the legal THC limit to boost business.

"I think there is the one person who doesn't really care what the paperwork says," McSherry said. "They are in it to turn a profit. They see what is selling, they know why it is selling and they know exactly what they are doing."

Meanwhile, smaller local businesses don’t have the financial capability to get each product tested. She said that they are the unfortunate ones who could get harassed and caught in the crossfire.

"You're going to see the mom-and-pop places get hit hard because they don't know what they have. If I wanted to ensure that my product was good, I'd have to go and spend a lot of money to pay for an independent lab to test the product for me and that lab may have a backlog of customers waiting to do the same thing," McSherry said.

Many retailers get their CBD products from cannabis manufacturers outside of the state.

McSherry said that there are manufacturers who fraudulently sell products to retailers, not caring if it is delta-8 or 10, or if the delta-9 products have THC above 0.3%. 

She questioned why the business owners are punished when manufacturers are the ones trying to game the system.

"How are you to know when you are selling hundreds of different types of products? Why don't we go and ask these companies that are manufacturing these products, that say they're legal?" McSherry said.

DiBridge said he had already received a letter from Wilkins. He agrees law enforcement should be going after businesses that are selling illegal forms of THC but thinks they should leave local businesses that are doing everything legally alone.

"Go after bad actors, we're okay with that, but don't go after businesses like me who are compliant and not hiding anything," DiBridge said. "You can take my products, look and test it. Go after the wrongdoers that are putting real weed out there and saying it is this or whatever, but don't harass real retailers." 

Still, not wanting to take any chances on his products not in compliance, DiBridge had to take most off the shelves. He said the move has already hurt many CBD businesses in Greenville financially.

“When we take away products people come in and buy, I am forced to turn them away. It hurts my bottom line and makes it hard to operate a business in South Carolina as well," DiBridge said. "It could turn into where we have to close our businesses because the sales aren't there."

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Region: South Carolina

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