CBD, short for cannabidiol, comes from hemp, marijuana’s mild cousin. The crop became federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, and can be used to make clothing or as fuel. But its most popular product is CBD, sold as lotions, oils and in gummies. Those who use it say it helps ease anxiety and inflammation, though there are few studies to support such claims.
As long as the hemp contains less than .3% THC, marijuana’s intoxicating compound that produces a high, farmers can sell it. But the feds have blocked the use of CBD as a dietary supplement pending further research.
While industry stakeholders say such a change could be a boon to the industry, the bill is not the first of its kind. Another filed in the House in January sought to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to allow for the marketing of CBD as a supplement and food.
Both seek to clear up confusion, but the new bill goes further, and would allow other cannabinoids to be used as supplements while telling the U.S. Food and Drug Administration how to treat CBD and other hemp derivatives as new dietary ingredients.
“Hemp was historically an important crop for Virginia farmers, and dietary supplements made from it do not possess dangerous addictive qualities,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said in a press release. “Nevertheless, the current state of regulation creates confusion about its legal uses. I joined this bipartisan bill to provide certainty for hemp farmers that their crop may find legal uses.”
Romano Romani, a board member and head lobbyist with the CBD Industry Association, said the group supports allowing CBD to become a food additive or dietary supplement. But it favors the earlier bill to exempt specifically CBD, rather than the broader Griffith bill that would ultimately amend the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and could prove hard to pass through Congress.
While officials tasked the United States Department of Agriculture with developing rules and regulations for hemp cultivation, CBD fell under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration. The issue has become convoluted, with the FDA approving one drug containing CBD, Epidiolex, to treat severe forms of Epilepsy.
Because the administration already marked the compound as a drug, it can’t quickly pivot and label it as food without action from lawmakers.
“The FDA has said repeatedly that it’s going to take them another two, three years to” regulate CBD, Romani said. “They want to have all this safety data for CBD. Listen, just put this exemption in there. That’s going to resolve the whole thing almost instantaneously.”
Still, thousands of CBD dietary products have flooded the market, and states have taken their own stances in the absence of regulation. Washington and California, along with New York City, banned the addition of CBD to foods. But New Jersey last year passed a law allowing the practice, and bars and cafes have since begun offering CBD drinks and baked goods.
Romani called the current ban “untenable and unprecedented,” as the industry continues to grow and the Food and Drug Administration fails to unveil regulations. While it’s not stopping the bad actors, the ban does give some major companies pause, he said.
And while consumers may think the products are safe, the agency never established a solid set of rules.
Romani said he isn’t helpful about either bill moving swiftly through Congress with the current economic and health crises. But he did say he hopes the U.S. Senate will add an exemption on the CBD ban as a provision in other legislation passing this year to move the process along.
“It would solve the problem essentially overnight,” Romani said. “The illegality would be removed, but the FDA would not be told in any way how to regulate it.”