Federal law now permits the sale of products containing cannibidiol, or CBD, as long as they contain little of the psychoactive ingredient THC. There is a lot of interest in CBD, but also confusion, and laws governing sales vary by state. Online merchants have the opportunity to distinguish themselves providing much-needed education on the basics of CBD and its benefits.

Jay You, a veterinarian, is CEO and founder of Dr. You+, a brand of CBD products for pets, and of parent company JPR Ventures, a maker of CBD products for humans.

To say the CBD industry is hot right now just might be the biggest understatement of 2019. Thanks to rising consumer interest and recent regulatory shifts, CBD products have gone from a niche subcategory to an industry to be reckoned with in relatively short order. In fact, the latest forecasts estimate that U.S. sales of CBD products could crest $20 billion by 2024.

As with many emerging product categories today, a great deal of the interest in and sales of CBD products is manifesting online, which has led many retailers and ecommerce sites to evaluate the feasibility of adding CBD to their online offerings. That said, given the fast-evolving and highly transitional nature of the industry, it can often seem like there’s more grey than there is black and white when it comes to selling CBD products today.

CBD ecommerce is still a diverse and highly fractured playing field, free of any notable monopolies.

If you’re among the legions of internet retailers today who are evaluating CBD offerings—from CBD oils and lotions to cosmetics and pet treats—here’s what you need to know.

It’s Legal, But Still Complicated

The major impetus for the recent explosion in CBD product availability was the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized CBD purchase at a federal level, as long as the products contain less than 0.3 percent THC. However, CBD’s legal status still varies widely from state to state.

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This variance has led to a great deal of caution by major retailers when it comes to online sales of CBD products. While plenty of major names, from Walgreens to Kroger, are promoting and selling CBD in-stores, they are doing so only on a state-by-state basis. The challenge of controlling online orders at the state level appears to be one that few are willing to tackle.

That said, the fact that Amazon has stayed out of the CBD game thus far—presumably because its vastness paints the biggest target for ambitious state enforcement agents—has opened up opportunities for smaller retail and ecommerce players—the same ones that often find themselves boxed out by Amazon in other categories. Major brands, like Sephora and Neiman Marcus, are beginning to play in the online CBD space, but for the most part, CBD ecommerce is still a diverse and highly fractured playing field, free of any notable monopolies.

Apply Scrutiny

Whether you’re considering adding existing products to your online catalog or bringing a line of CBD products under your own banner, let’s be clear: You need to do your due diligence on the product and ingredients side of things.

CBD sales are booming, and the industry is maturing quickly. But its meteoric rise means it’s still very much the Wild West out there when it comes to quality. In many cases, what you get when you search for CBD oil (including on Amazon) is actually hemp oil, which contains no cannabinoids and, therefore, imparts none of the benefits associated with CBD.

Over time, the misleading and fly-by-night operations in the CBD space will be weeded out, both by regulators and consumers who gradually learn how to separate the high-quality from the low-quality suppliers. But in the meantime, scrutiny is required.

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When evaluating CBD sources and products, look for the ones that don’t have anything to hide. That means their labels should include detailed ingredients and dosing information, as well as a QR code or URL that takes you to Certificate of Analysis (CoA) testing results with batch numbers that match the packaging. Also, any reputable CBD supplier should be able to tell you where the plants they use to produce the CBD are grown. The closer the supplier is to the plant itself, the better.

Consider the THC

There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to CBD vs. THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produces a psychoactive “high” that many associate with recreational marijuana, while CBD does not.

CBD is mainly extracted from industrial hemp, while THC comes from the more famous marijuana plant. Some—but not all—CBD products might contain trace amounts of THC, but such concentrations (less than 0.3 percent) should be low enough as to not have a psychoactive effect. These THC-containing products are known as full-spectrum CBD, whereas other CBD products—those featuring a range of cannabinoids but no THC—are known as “broad-spectrum” CBD.

For online retailers, this distinction might prove important. At present, the production process of some CBD suppliers isn’t precise enough to ensure THC concentrations within full-spectrum products remain uniformly and consistently below through the .3 percent legal threshold. As such, full-spectrum products are a more obvious target for testing and crackdown by state or federal officials. Sticking to broad-spectrum products—for the time being, at least—might prove a simpler way to bring CBD safely into your product offering.

Education Required

Finally, given how quickly the CBD market has grown and how many questions the average consumer still has about these products, online merchants have the opportunity to distinguish themselves in this space by providing much needed education on the basics of CBD and its benefits. Where possible, add detail to product descriptions and links to educational materials that elaborate on some of the distinctions discussed above.

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As with any emerging product category, the cream will rise to the top in the CBD space in relatively short order. Now is the time for online merchants to ensure they’re aligning with quality and transparency in order to ensure long-term sustainability in this category.

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