Is CBD retail ‘essential’? Shuttered hemp retailers fight to stay open alongside grocery, marijuana stores

, Is CBD retail ‘essential’? Shuttered hemp retailers fight to stay open alongside grocery, marijuana stores

A CBD retailer in Denver has closed its doors, a sign telling customers that it is unable to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Kristen Nichols)

Hemp production has been classified as “essential” by the federal government during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the classification doesn’t extend to retailers selling hemp and CBD — and some retailers told to shut down during the coronavirus response are asking authorities to reconsider and designate them “essential” businesses.

They point out that many states classify medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries as “essential” and that some customers rely on CBD products for anxiety relief during this time of crisis.

The state of Texas is a strong example of the essential-or-not patchwork facing CBD retailers.

Some Texas counties are allowing CBD shops to remain open if they practice acceptable social distancing by providing phone and online orders, curb-side delivery and other services.

But law enforcement in other counties have forced CBD retailers to close completely.

For example, Fatty’s Smoke Shop in Beverly Hills, Texas, was ticketed and fined this week for staying open, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Its customers were told by police they were “illegally out of the house,” by visiting the business, which was not considered essential under the county’s emergency order.

After the retailer fought back with a letter to the city, the order has been temporarily lifted, allowing the retailer to remain open and offer curbside service, but state officials are reviewing a statewide policy.

Retailers in Colorado, Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida have also been forced to close in accordance with coronavirus response rules, though many have continued selling products online or offering curbside pick-up.

Consumers relying on CBD

CBD retailers say the closures are also affecting customers who rely on the products to help with things like anxiety, pain management and other issues.

At such a time of uncertainty, when consumers are experiencing high anxiety because of the coronavirus outbreak, products like CBD need to be available, according to Nick Kovocevich, CEO of California-based ancillary products supplier KushCo Holdings.

“Certainly hemp is essential because CBD, like THC, is relied on by a lot of people for daily use, for pain relief, for other health benefits, for sleep,” Kovocevich told Hemp Industry Daily.

“If people were not to have access to those products, especially at a time like this, when anxieties are already high, I think that could be very detrimental for society.”

Kovocevich said the difference between THC and CBD, though, is that CBD products are legal and therefore can be shipped through the mail and sold online, which could be part of the local authorities’ reasoning for shutting down stores.

Industry appeals

Hemp businesses impacted by the shutdown contend that their stores should remain open and considered as essential as legal stores like convenience and liquor stores  said Coleman Hemphill, president of the Texas Hemp Industries Association.

“We really believe that these county judges and mayors, in good faith, have misunderstandings that hemp and CBD products are only sold in smoke shops and in vape shops. When in reality, hemp products are sold in grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and liquor stores,” which are classified as “essential,” he said.

Further, marijuana dispensaries in other states like Florida and California have been declared essential, yet stores that sell federally legal hemp-derived CBD have not – a disparity that seems unfair to legal hemp businesses, Hemphill said.

After receiving multiple calls from members, Texas and Florida state chapters of the Hemp Industries Association last week asked local and state politicians to deem hemp and hemp businesses as “critical infrastructure.”

“Shutting down hemp businesses will not reduce the need for the critical products many customers have grown to rely on, to aid a multitude of different human- and animal-related health issues,” the associations’ collective statement read.

Advice for shuttered retailers

Hemp and CBD businesses that have been forced to close should reach out to their local authorities and make a case for staying open, according to Hemphill.

To be deemed essential, the hemp industry needs to demonstrate cooperation and value, especially during such a stressful time for local and state officials, said Michael Bronstein, founder of the Pennsylvania-based American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH).

“Display good corporate citizenship. Embrace regulation. Show steps that businesses will take to help comply with CDC and state-level guidance and promote public health and safety during the crisis,” Bronstein told Hemp Industry Daily.

“In this industry, being able to display good business practices will lead to good politics in this situation.”

Is hemp an essential crop?

The agriculture industry is vital to the country and plays an important role during the COVID-19 response as one of 16 critical infrastructure sectors, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Food and agriculture workers have been listed among the Department of Homeland Security’s Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers as the country works through the coronavirus crisis.

As a legal commodity, this designation should cover hemp, Bronstein said, but farmers should check with their state agriculture departments to ensure they can move forward with their production seasons as the coronavirus crisis plays out.

“We will see serious economic impact if hemp isn’t deemed essential,” Bronstein said.

Hemphill said while most of the hemp industry’s current output is used to produce CBD products, it’s critical to demonstrate the critical needs that hemp grown for grain and fiber can fill.

Getting hemp deemed essential now could help pave the way for future hemp-fiber uses, he said. He pointed out that domestic hemp could one day be used in medical supplies — from hospital scrubs to face masks and ventilators —  which are frequently being imported.

“The narrative and the successful headline that hemp is deemed critical infrastructure could have national implications to all of the spending that’s going on nationally to acknowledge that these are things that we need to be looking at,” he told Hemp Industry Daily.

“It goes far beyond just what people’s perception is of CBD,” he said.

“We want to push the broader narrative that (hemp) is a critical resource, and funds should be devoted to creating the infrastructure to push these critical products out.”

Laura Drotleff can be reached at