The rise of the CBD industry on Guam
On Guam and throughout Micronesia, many islanders suffer from diabetes or cancer and are prescribed a rainbow of medications that they hope would erase their pain. While some pains may ease with pharmaceutical medications, other patients are seeking herbal remedies for their illnesses.
Enter Cannabidiol. Extracted from marijuana plant, CBD is touted as a natural medicine which some claim can provide relief for different kinds of illnesses, including depression and anxiety. CBD does not have the psychoactive components to get high. In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved the prescription use of Epidiolex, a purified form of CBD oil, for treating two types of epilepsy.
CBD is the closest to medical marijuana that Guam could get at this point. Guam voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2014 but it has had a slow start. Inadequate rules and regulation hampered its progress and the lack of a licensed cannabis testing lab has left the program in limbo.
CBD products, on the other hand, are becoming ubiquitous on Guam as they become high on demand. They are sold over the counter and are available at specialty stores and coffee shops.
Sweet Releaf, a new shop in Hagatna, offers CBD-based treatments for Guam’s ailments. “Our customers’ ages range from early 20s to 80 years old. We're predominantly sought after by military veterans and elderly,” said manager Nicolas Brown. “We also sell to people dealing with stress, anxiety, or looking for pain relief. A lot of our customers have tried almost every pharmaceutical drug, but it can't provide a relief like CBD can.”
Sweet Releaf shares a building with the Christian shop, Faith Bookstore, but Faith does not hold any moral judgment on the CBD shop. "Their customers are also our customers. Our products are legal locally and federally and it provides health benefits without the psychological effects,” Brown said. “We share the same customer base because people are looking for relief but they're not looking to get high, so they come to us. They're getting high off of life still because CBD eliminates negative side effects your body goes through and still maintain mental focus and stay sharp.”
Although their products and store are insured, Sweet Releaf has encountered difficulties due to the ambiguous legalities of marijuana. “An issue we're going through on Guam—and this is only on Guam—is the importation of our product is on a case by case basis. One day you can import a big pallet of CBD, but another day you try to bring a big pallet in and they confiscate it,” Brown said.
Sweet Releaf had over $3,000 worth of CBD products confiscated in March. Brown is unsure if the products will ever be returned. “They say that it's waiting for lab results, but we don't have a lab facility on Guam, so it's indefinite. Our products are thoroughly lab tested in America which were able to bypass two customs, one in California and one in Hawaii. Only when it comes to Guam, they want to seize it, saying that they're waiting for lab results.”
Sweet Releaf owner Patrick Alvarez and general manager Nicolas Brown introduce their CBD products during the Guam Women's Chamber of Commerce’s event, “The Hightide Women's Summit” in March 2019. Photo courtesy of Sweet Releaf
In an email interview, Jessi Santos- Torres, spokesman for Guam Customs and Quarantine, said the agency has seized 288 CBD packs, 428 CBD capsules and 129 bottles of various types of CBD products, which effected two local businesses. The seized products were shipped from California. Santos-Torres said under federal law, it is unlawful to import controlled substances into United States jurisdictions.
Another issue Sweet Releaf must overcome is finding places to advertise its CBD products. “Our advertising is very limited, but we've been growing our customers through strong word of mouth, which is our best advertising right now,” Brown said. “Because we're considered cannabis products, we don't do any online advertising. We don't have many options. We're only allowed to advertise on buildings that give us permission.”
Additionally, Sweet Releaf also struggles to find a bank that would do business with them. Cannabis companies throughout the U.S. await the Congress’ approval of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act which would make it easier for them to receive banking services. “We're hoping to get a bank account soon. We had an account with Bank of Guam and they had to close our account because they said CBD isn't allowed,” Brown said.
In May, Guam’s attorney general Leevin Camacho attorneys general from 33 states and U.S. territories in calling for passage of a bill pending in the U.S. Congress that would allow legal cannabis businesses access to the banking industry.
“Our banking system must be flexible enough to address the needs of businesses in the various states and territories, with state and territorial input, while protecting the interests of the federal government,” the letter said. “This includes a banking system for marijuana-related businesses that is both responsive and effective in meeting the demands of our economy,”
Another local storeowner, who wished to remain anonymous, also had difficulty trying to open a bank account. “Banks don’t want to do business with us,” he said. “The FDIC needs to implement the 2018 Farm Bill rules already. CBD is no longer a Schedule 1 substance but since the guidelines aren’t published, the banks are following the previous rules which kicks out any business selling CBD products. This stifles local industry.”
What CBD can do?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a nonintoxicating component of the marijuana plant. Unlike THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the “psychoactive” component of the cannabis plant, CBD won’t get you high. All cannabinoids, including CBD, produce effects in the body by attaching to certain receptors. The human body produces certain cannabinoids on its own. It also has two receptors for cannabinoids, called the CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are present throughout the body, but many are in the brain. But scientists know little about what it can do: Most of the information about CBD’s effects in humans is anecdotal or extrapolated from animal studies, and few rigorous trials have been conducted. (Source: Medical News)
Even Guam’s first CBD business, Latte Stoned, only recently opened a bank account for the company. “Because of the Farm Bill of 2018 that was just recently passed, legalizing hemp, we just got a bank account this year,” said owner Jerrica Robinson. “Because we were the first and only company providing CBD for the last three years, we had to deal with every roadblock, every question, and legalities. We had to set the standard of CBD on Guam in terms of education to make sure people know the difference between CBD and THC and what CBD can do for your body.”
Latte Stoned’s merchandise is imported from the states and sent through USPS, so Guam Customs have not confiscated any of their CBD. “Our products are made by our private chemist and veterans to deliver 99.9 percent CBD products with a THC level lower than the legal limit to deliver relief to our clients that cannot consume cannabis and search for a purer medicine,” Robinson said. “The great thing about our products is that we put other our own calculations. Our topical lotions have an increase of menthol and camphor, so it absorbs more into the skin than sit on top of it because Guam’s hot.”
Latte Stoned serves customers of wide age range from all ages. Its youngest patient is one year old. “We mostly cater to military, and government workers, like GDOE and UOG employees,” Robinson said.
Because Latte Stoned seeks to promote responsible and informed CBD use, they are aware that there are still many years of research and testing to know the many effects of CBD. Robinson said, “CBD is not the silver bullet. People think medical cannabis is a cure-all, but you have to think of all eight dimensions of wellness — whether it'd be emotional, physical, or occupational. You can't expect CBD to solve every problem going on internally in your body.”
Some patients, while inclined to use CBD, prefer to exercise caution given the random drug tests at work.
“I recently had a severe toothache and painkillers were not enough to ease the pain. I wanted to try CBD oil but I wasn’t sure if it would give a positive test result; if it did, that would be the end of my career,” said a local pilot, who requested anonymity. “When I checked the aviation medical advisory service, I realized I made the right decision.”
According to the aviation medical advisory, use of cannabis for medical conditions is not authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FDA’s recent approval for a CBD containing drug for a rare type of seizures does not make CBD authorized for pilots. The advisory stated that hemp products and CBD oils and extracts cannot guarantee the absence of THC in the product.
“So yeah, no CBD for me,” the pilot said.