Earth Pets of Gainesville is stocked with dog treats, carpeted towers, a pet food truck and one product that has attracted attention.
Sitting on the organic pet store’s shelf is Canna Companion, a capsule comprised of hemp, which is a combination of Cannabis sativa strains that offer medical benefits for pets but poses potential legal hurdles in the state.
Joy Drawdy, owner of Earth Pets and a local animal advocate, has put the product back on store shelves, the first time since summer 2014.
She announced in summer that the store was carrying Canna Companion. But within a week of putting it on the shelves, she removed it due to issues with law enforcement.
“They couldn’t tell me I couldn’t sell it, but they have concerns,” Drawdy said. “Local law enforcement was concerned it was a marijuana product.”
Drawdy said she was confused when she first began researching the legality, considering the differences between hemp and marijuana. They are both substances derived from cannabis, an illegal plant under the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp cannot legally exceed o.3 percent of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gives users a high, without being classified as marijuana.
In Drawdy’s eyes, it’s all semantics. She thinks of the legal status of cannabis and hemp by comparing it to the Prohibition era.
“It’s kind of like I had a near-beer. By calling it beer, would I be arrested? It’s got everything but the alcohol — is it a beer? Does it mean I’m breaking the law?” she said. “Assuming the near-beer is made from everything that beer is, too.”
Dr. Sarah Brandon, one of the owners of Canna Companion, said she finds cannabis laws vague. She has battled her own legal problems over Canna Companion’s trademark.
Brandon and her lawyers argue that it is hemp. Hemp falls out of the CSA’s spectrum of marijuana. With this classification, she can virtually sell it anywhere in the world, including the United States, Brandon said.
Drawdy spent months talking with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the DEA in Alachua County, the people who make the hemp in Canada, the Gainesville Police Department and State Attorney Bill Cervone. And she was finally able to put Canna Companion back on her shelves.
“The law says cannabis. There is a federal exemption for hemp. There is an exemption for animals,” Drawdy said. “We figured that out together with law enforcement.”
Drawdy said she is glad she didn’t promote the product too much, aside from a few posts on the Earth Pets Facebook page, while waiting for law enforcement to authorize the sales. Now that they have, she doesn’t plan on taking the product off the shelves anytime soon.
“My personal feelings aside, this product is important to me because it made my dogs stop having seizures,” Drawdy said.
Canna Companion came into Drawdy and her dog Iggy’s life before the legal chaos.
“She (Iggy) started having bad seizures, really horrible,” Drawdy said.
Through online research, she found all the drugs available to Iggy had negative side effects. She hadn’t considered medical marijuana until a vet mentioned it. After finding the low-THC Canna Companion, she felt comfortable giving Iggy the product.
“No lifestyle changes, no side effects — zero,” she said.
She saw only one change: The seizures almost stopped. Her dog was down to one seizure a week, compared to the multiple seizures a week she previously had.
But Drawdy had her doubts.
“I didn’t want to buy marijuana,” she said. “I don’t believe you should give an animal marijuana, it’s not consensual to get an animal high.”
Brandon, who tested the medical marijuana when the product was first in development, affirmed Drawdy’s thoughts: Pets don’t like being high.
“They don’t understand it, why they feel funny, why sounds and sights are different,” Brandon explains.
Brandon said she had the idea for Canna Companion after her husband began taking medical marijuana, which is legal in their home state of Washington.
Their rottweiler, Riley, had hip dysplasia. He was the first dog they tested on. Having just completed veterinarian school with heavy loans, the couple didn’t have the money for an operation.
Very little research was available at the time, but they learned enough to proceed with their testing.
They started with medical marijuana, Brandon said, not hemp. As vets they were able to experiment with different dosages and THC levels while actively monitoring the side effects. After six years, they found a dose and strain they felt comfortable with.
Riley, who wasn’t able to climb stairs because of his hip, was now able to trot upstairs and hang out with the family.
Then they gave it to Miles, another one of their dogs who had mild arthritis. Brandon would give him a dose before they went hiking. He was able to get up, stretch and carry his own backpack for long hikes.
“It let him hike farther and for a longer period of time,” Brandon said. “That was something he loved to do.”
About 90 percent of patients respond in this positive manner, Brandon said. Dogs that couldn’t walk comfortably due to painful joints were able to go to the park with their owners.
Darlen Arden, a certified animal behavioral consultant and an advocate for medical marijuana for dogs, was moved after hearing a story similar to Brandon’s about a vet who treated his dog that had cancer, with cannabis.
“Don’t let animals suffer,” she said. “I can’t stand suffering for anyone.”
States where marijuana is legal have become testing grounds for users and their pets, Arden said. Pet owners sometimes give them the wrong dosage or are careless and let their animals get to the marijuana treats. This could pose a lethal threat to these animals.
“Some people on (medical marijuana) have decided to try (giving it to their pets),” Arden said. “But the problem is they don’t have the right dosage and do not have the right from anyone.”
Helping suffering pets and giving them access to the right medication is exactly what Drawdy and Brandon set out to do.
“That is why we are doing this,” Brandon said. “It was worth risking my license.”