Missouri tax officials are raising questions about the legality of stores selling largely unregulated CBD-infused products.
Neither the tax officials nor the state's attorney general has been willing to release the attorney general's legal opinion on the question.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained documents in which former Missouri Department of Revenue Director Joel Walters asked Attorney General Eric Schmitt for an opinion in March on whether the department could issue sales tax licenses to businesses selling the popular substance, an extract of hemp.
Walters left the agency later that month, but before he left, he suggested that retail sale of CBD products might not be legal based on a 2014 law that allowed the Missouri Department of Agriculture to contract with two businesses to cultivate hemp and extract hemp oil.
Under that law, the oil was to be sold only to individuals who required it as a treatment for epilepsy.
"As the retail sale of CBD oil and CBD oil-infused products may be illegal, an entity intending on selling these products could be doing so illegally," Walters wrote in a memo.
Walters also wrote that the Department of Revenue had not formed an opinion, citing a need for assistance from the Missouri Attorney General's office.
The attorney general's office decided not to make the opinion public, and spokesman Chris Nuelle said it is not subject to disclosure under the state's Sunshine Law. The revenue department, meanwhile, also did not release the opinion.
The Post-Dispatch reported that the outcome is a type of don't-ask-don't-tell policy, creating an environment in which businesses selling CBD oil can get a sales tax license as long as they don't say they are selling it.
The revenue department has not approved retail sales tax registration applications that specifically indicate stores are selling CBD oil, but "may have issued new sales tax licenses to businesses that made no mention of CBD oil in their sales tax registration application," spokeswoman Anne Marie Moy said.
The number of stores dedicated to the sale of CBD has surged across Missouri. More than 20 retailers have opened in the St. Louis area alone in the past three years.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, can't get you high, but is popular for its purported health benefits in treating anxiety and pain. It can be derived from either hemp or marijuana.
Missouri lawmakers in 2018 exempted industrial hemp containing less than 0.3% of the psychoactive ingredient THC from the definition of marijuana and the state list of controlled substances. But it's not clear whether that applies to CBD.
A state law approved this year further loosened the state's hemp rules. University of Missouri researchers now grow the plant, and next year's growing season will be the first in about a century in which hemp will be widely grown in Missouri.