A big question people are asking is: What is CBD – and is it legal within the United States?
Well, the quick answer is – CBD is the shorthand for cannabidiol, one of 113 cannabinoids found within the plant genus cannabis sativa.
The longer answer is – it is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis and a major breakthrough in the search for an alternative to opiates and therapy within palliative care. In addition, it has garnered proponents within the wellness industry, sports industry, mental health community and major support from those who suffer from chronic illnesses. Its plethora of medicinal benefits as an anti-inflammatory, anti-psychotic and general food supplement is well backed by research and medications are already being developed by big pharma. CBD is also proving to be a major impetus in the legalization of hemp within the United States and has even garnered attention by the United Nation’s WHO. CBD is many, many things, but is it legal?
It’s definitely a “grey area” but to put it simply – No.
(Update 6/01: Actually there are now some instances when CBD is Legal – See New Drug Code 7350 from the DEA)
According to the DEA, all cannabis plants and its endogenous cannabinoids are considered illegal. However, this isn’t stopping producers from selling and shipping it across the country to common everyday citizens like you or I. Nor is it stopping big business from investing in farmland or laboratories for production and processing. So how come people seem to be able to skirt the law with impunity? And how did we get into such a grey area of legality?
Let’s go back to the 1930’s…
The history of legality in regards to CBD is rooted in the history of the plant it is derived from, Cannabis Sativa. Cannabis Sativa includes two forms of cannabis: marijuana and hemp. Both are technically within the genus c. sativa, however only one of them is found to have high quantities of the psychoactive element THC, while both can contain varying amounts of CBD. Marijuana from its earliest days has been touted as the “Devil’s Lettuce”, and hemp unfortunately has experienced similar prejudice.
Going back, after Prohibition, with alcohol now legal, Harry Anslinger the first Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner, needed a new substance to attack. As a result came the 1937 Marihuana Act which deterred farmers from growing hemp by imposing taxes and bureaucratic burdens on farmers.
Later, during WWII, the United States military was under acute pressure to acquire materials for the war. As a result the government promoted a short film they created called Hemp for Victory, urging farmers to produce hemp for aviation lubricant, parachutes and tow lines. With federal aid and government approval thousands of acres of hemp were seeded, and still grow wild today.
However in 1970, during the Nixon era’s War on Drugs, cannabis sativa was labeled as a Schedule 1 drug and deemed, “illegal because they have high abuse potential, no medical use, and severe safety concerns”. Despite having little evidence to support such claims, and recommendations from his own drug commission for removal, the Nixon administration began a crusade intent on demonizing and prohibiting the growing and use of marijuana and hemp plants, seed, and oil that lasted up to the Reagan era. This has had a drastic impact on the number of young people incarcerated, markedly impacting the hippie community at the time and people of color to this day. Within less than two decades,
“The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.”
To This day, within states without medical or recreational cannabis, local law enforcement still follows federal guidelines and considers possession of any cannabinoid a crime.
2014 and the Farm Bill…
In 2014, President Obama signed in the Farm Bill (aka the Agricultural Act), which authorized states’ Department of Agriculture and Universities to grow and conduct research on hemp within a regulated pilot program, if located within a state that had legalized hemp cultivation.
This represented a huge shift within the political landscape with respect to cannabis because it officially differentiated Industrial Hemp from Marijuana setting a precedent for other legislatures to follow. On a federal level, select states now had approval to grow hemp and develop uses for the stalk, fibers, seed and cannabinoids within them, presuming the hemp grown was deemed legal. The determining factor was within it’s THC content; a plant must have less than 3% THC in order to be considered legal.
Following the signing of the 2014 Farm Bill, there have been an increasing number of states that have written and passed state laws in relation to hemp and/or cannabidiol. As of 2017, there are 33 states with laws specifically regulating hemp, with 14 of the 33 legally producing hemp seeds, and 24 states that have defined industrial hemp as distinct from other strains of cannabis, effectively removing obstructions to production and sale. Currently there are 17 states that have passed legislation at the state level, either legalizing the use and sale of CBD, and/or providing protections to those who are in possession/use of the cannabinoid.
So is this Cannabinoid Legal?
Technically, since the Farm Bill only authorizes hemp grown for research under a sanctioned state pilot program, it is still federally illegal to grow hemp for commercial purposes and to sell any of its chemical derivatives, including CBD. Therefore prior to 2014 all the hemp and hemp products found within the US had been imported from countries like Canada, China and Europe… but the best hemp is grown here in the States.
However with a growing number of State-sanctioned cultivation for industrial hemp in the country, it seems state’s have found a legitimate loophole in allowing for hemp cultivation and CBD production (functioning in a similar fashion to how states have developed their own recreational marijuana programs). This increase in supply and demand has led to a flurry of CBD based products to hit the shelves and online marketplace. With regards to hemp derived CBD, many companies will claim that their products are “CBD only”, and/or have less than .03% THC, which makes it “legal” within the country. This is not true, federally speaking. If you are located within a state that does not provide any protections, does not have a state-sanctioned medical program nor recreational program then it is definitely not true and having possession puts you at risk for arrest and prosecution. In states that have medical programs (where you are a medical card carrier), or have recreational programs or protections, CBD may be sold casually and may be readily available to you perhaps being sold out of the store, or within your food or coffee (upon request).
This said, it is becoming exceedingly clear that there are many useful benefits from the production of hemp and the use of CBD. The production of hemp material within the United States would increase jobs, provide building material stronger than concrete, alternative sources for paper, fabric, rope and canvas, combating deforestation. It requires less water to grow, and fewer chemicals to process; its shown to aid in soil remediation in nuclear zones and soil retention in dry areas, while also exhibiting antibacterial value.
Furthermore, as a food source, hemp seed and oil contains all 13 essential amino acids for protein building, the highest percentage of essential fatty acids with the lowest percentage of saturated fats. While as a medicine, CBD is proving to be quintessential in combating the opiate epidemic and increasing the well-being of those suffering from chronic and mental illness.
While it is clear that CBD is illegal within the United States it is also clear that it hasn’t impeded the market for it. Furthermore, within in the recent months, we’ve had proponents speak out for declassification of Industrial Hemp and CBD, and more and more research touting the miraculous benefits of the cannabinoid. To end I’ll leave you with this quote from DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne,
“It would not be an appropriate use of federal resources to go after a mother because her child has epileptic seizures and has found something that can help and has helped. Are they breaking the law? Yes, they are. Are we going to break her door down? Absolutely not. And I don’t think she’ll be charged by any U.S. Attorney,”