All of a sudden CBD seems to be everywhere, from dispensaries to local health stores to vape shops, massage spas, and specialty online stores.
And yet, there’s still a lot of confusion when it comes to the legal status of CBD. After all, the compound is derived from cannabis plants, and the federal law is, least to say, murky when it comes to that.
Long story short, CBD is legal in the US, but the status of certain products will vary depending on where the CBD comes from.
The legal CBD market is still unregulated by the FDA — although this is about to change soon — so it’s not uncommon to stumble upon a mislabeled product or one that contains hazardous additives.
For this reason, we’ve decided to break down the legality of CBD across the United States — and devote part of this article to the laws and regulations regarding CBD products around the world.
Let’s start with answering the substantial question.
Is CBD Legal?
Two factors decide whether or not CBD is legal in the United States:
- Source – CBD can be derived from hemp and marijuana. Both plants belong to the same botanical family — Cannabis sativa L. — but they don’t share the same characteristics (more on that later). Hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states, while marijuana-derived CBD is legal only in the states with medical or recreational (or both) marijuana laws.
- THC content – this factor is closely related to the first one. Hemp plants are bred to contain 0.3% THC or less in order to fit within the federal limits for THC content. Anything above that is considered marijuana; as of this writing, THC is a Schedule I controlled substance according to federal law. Possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana is a federal felony holding strict punishments for those who cross the law. The federal law stays in stark contrast to the policies of marijuana-friendly states.
In simple words, if your CBD product comes from hemp and contains no more than 0.3% THC — this should be proven by the Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from a third-party laboratory — you don’t need to worry about any legal consequences since you’ve bought a health supplement.
But when you’re looking for a marijuana-derived CBD oil, you’ll be able to buy it only in certain states. However, taking marijuana products out of a state is still a federal felony, even if you’re transporting it between two states that have legalized some form of marijuana.
Now that we’ve established the factors determining the legal status of CBD, let’s go further down the rabbit hole.
CBD Legal Status on the Federal Level
The federal government has a long history of cannabis. While people have been using the plant for recreational and medical purposes, the authorities have taken it as an excuse to discriminate against people of color and criminalize citizens for possession although they never had scientific evidence to prove the alleged social harms caused by cannabis (1).
Several decades later, the federal government has decided to loosen its stance on cannabis. As legalization draws near thanks to the mutual work of medical researchers and activists, CBD has been removed from the list of controlled substances.
Of course, there are some exceptions to that.
First, the CBD must be derived from hemp, which is a variety of cannabis with less than 0.3% of THC per dry mass.
Another form of CBD approved by the federal government is the pure, isolated form of cannabidiol.
However, when CBD comes from marijuana plants, it is still considered an illegal substance that can only be purchased in states with legal marijuana markets.
That doesn’t stop the federal government from enforcing its “anti-drug” laws, so theoretically speaking, you can still face a felony charge if the federal authorities deem it the right thing to do.
Since the majority of CBD products for sale are made from industrial hemp, they are legal in all 50 states. As long as you can prove your CBD oil has less than 0.3% of THC, you’re in the clear.
Is CBD Legal in Every US State?
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp on the federal level, reclassifying the plant as an agricultural commodity. Hemp is now legal to grow and sell for any purpose, including health supplements containing CBD.
As with any federal law, individual states may accept the new regulations or impose their own restrictions on CBD products. Currently, CBD is legal in every state in some form. The states with limited access to the full spectrum of CBD products include Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina.
We always recommend checking with the local laws of your state to make sure. This is an informative article and you shouldn’t take it as legal advice. If you have any doubts regarding the legal status of CBD where you live, consult a legal expert.
The same goes for buying any CBD product and your health. We encourage you to consult a trustworthy medical expert for professional advice on taking CBD oil.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Why Not Every Type of CBD is Legal
As mentioned earlier, hemp and marijuana are members of the same plant family, but that doesn’t mean they share the same chemical profile.
In fact, they vary significantly when it comes to the ratio between CBD and THC (2).
Hemp is bred to have 0.3% of THC or less, but on the other hand, it comes with higher levels of CBD (up to 12% in industrial hemp).
Most marijuana strains contain significant amounts of THC, between 5–35% depending on the strain. They usually come with negligible CBD levels (0.1–3%). However, some marijuana plants may boast higher concentrations of CBD due to selective breeding. Selectively bred hybrids have higher ratios of CBD to THC.
While hemp is legal on the federal level, marijuana is only legal in 15 states (recreational use). 48 states allow some form of medical-grade CBD for people with a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana card.
How Hemp Crops Can Sometimes Become Marijuana
The “ miracle” of reproduction makes it possible for hemp plants to become marijuana — no matter how strange it sounds.
If a female hemp plant and its male counterpart hook up, most of their offspring will be able to produce more than 0.3% of THC. As a matter of fact, some of these seedlings will only make THC (3).
Cannabis plants are almost always either female or male, unlike most flowering plants. And when the plants reproduce, their traits combine, and once dormant genes — like those responsible for THC secretion — can suddenly become active.
The ability of biological organisms to fluctuate is a variable that makes farmers and growers always concerned about their yields. Therefore, they always strive to prevent sexual reproduction.
Sadly for our male readers, the cannabis patriarchy is smashed where CBD-rich hemp grows. Farmers simply don’t want a male in their field because its presence may destroy the whole crops.
The above condition is easy to achieve when growing hemp in a greenhouse. But since cannabis is abundant in the wild, an outdoor hemp field can suddenly start breeding marijuana if the pollen is close enough.
Other Ways THC Can Sneak into Your CBD Oil Bottle
To collect cannabinoids from hemp, farmers take the harvested plants to an extractor, who collects the source material and preps it for sale. The problem with CBD extraction is that it follows the same process as THC extraction. If your manufacturer does it incorrectly, illegal doses of THC may pass into the final product.
This can be prevented with a chemical solvent. Don’t worry, as daunting as it sounds, a solvent is any substance that can dissolve another. For example, water is one of nature’s most effective solvents — but it won’t work with cannabinoids, as they only dissolve in fats and alcohols.
Liquid CO2 and ethanol are two popular solvents with distinct advantages. CO2 is highly efficient at pulling cannabinoids from plants, but it requires cold temperatures, such as -70 degrees Fahrenheit to remain liquid.
Alcohol extraction, in turn, can be performed at warmer temperatures — similar to how companies make liquor.
Then, there’s a process called fractional distillation, which allows for separating different cannabinoids based on a specific temperature. Once the cannabinoids are separated, the extractor adds the entire CBD. THC is added later in order to make sure its content doesn’t exceed 0.3%.
If an extractor makes a mistake, it might taint your CBD oil with an illegal dose of THC.
The Two Farm Bills that Made CBD Legal
In 2014, former President Barack Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 also known as the Farm Bill. It made a clear distinction between hemp and marijuana. Moreover, it authorized higher education institutions or state departments of agriculture to run pilot programs and research (4).
The purpose of this act was to find out whether or not hemp cultivation will benefit American farmers and other businesses. The new law was a large success, so the United States decided to follow through.
President Donald Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act in 2018 and legalized hemp on the federal level, removing it from DEA regulation. Also, CBD was removed from Schedule I and moved down to Schedule V in the Controlled Substances Act (5).
Where Are We Now?
The legalization of hemp, although exciting, was long overdue and only the beginning of a complex process. CBD manufacturers are still waiting for the FDA to draw out their guidelines on how to market hemp and CBD. If CBD is allowed to be marketed and regulated as health supplements, all those vendors selling fake or dangerous products will immediately disappear from the industry.
Currently, there are no manufacturing and labeling standards in place, which creates space for companies who only want to make a quick buck on people who have never taken CBD in their life. As a result, a person seeking natural ways to improve their quality of life may end up with a contaminated product that doesn’t have any proven benefits.
The FDA announced the formation of the Botanical Safety Consortium in 2019, a group consisting of minds from the industry, academia, consumer-interest groups, non-profit organizations, and the government to spur scientific advances in determining how to better evaluate the safety and efficacy of plant-based ingredients in health supplements.
However, before we receive the long-promised guidelines, CBD users must rely on their research when buying CBD oils, capsules, edibles, or any other supplement containing cannabidiol.
How to Ensure Your CBD Product is Legal
CBD companies can say what they want due to the lack of regulations on the market, so if you’re looking for a decent way to verify these claims, make sure to look for a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from a third-party laboratory.
Although it’s not obligatory, companies can send samples of their products to independent laboratories for content analysis. These labs will check for the potency of CBD in the sample, as well as for common contaminants, including pesticides, heavy metals, mold, and solvent residue.
Reputable CBD brands are open about their testing practices; they also make the lab reports available on their website or, at least, send them to users via email on request.
If a company doesn’t provide the CoA, they are not worth your time.
Is it Legal to Take CBD Out of State?
The federal government provides protections for the cross-state transportation of CBD products. However, these protections don’t apply to marijuana-derived CBD products. The USDA made it clear in its 2019 memorandum that the 2018 Farm Bill provisions ensure the “free flow of hemp in interstate commerce.”
In other words, the amended Farm Bill prevents states and Native American tribal jurisdictions from banning interstate hemp transportation or shipment provided that it is lawfully produced under the local law, or licensed under the USDA plan. The guidelines were introduced after the government heard reports from states such as Idaho, where authorities announced they would continue to treat CBD as an illegal substance until new federal rules are updated.
Is CBD Legal Everywhere in the World?
CBD is legal in some form in most places across the world. Some countries allow full-spectrum CBD extracts, whereas others only tolerate pure CBD.
There are, however, some places where CBD is still prohibited regardless of the source.
CBD has been banned from the majority of African countries. It is also illegal in Belgium, Russia, and Slovakia. Although China produces CBD products, they are exported to other countries; it is not legal to use, purchase, or sell CBD in the country
Summarizing the Legal Status of CBD
To sum up, CBD is federally legal in the United States as long as it comes from hemp and contains no more than 0.3%. Marijuana-derived CBD can be legally purchased in states that have legalized marijuana.
CBD became legal in 2018 under the provisions of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 signed by President Trump. Farmers can grow and sell hemp plants for any purpose, including botanical extracts containing CBD.
However, due to the current classification of CBD, the market lacks regulations regarding production and labeling, creating opportunities for fly-by-night vendors to churn out poor-quality products and label them as premium CBD.
The best way to ensure you’re getting a legal CBD product is to read third-party lab reports. Doing so will help you weed out products with illegal amounts of THC. A certificate of analysis from the laboratory will tell you exactly how much CBD is in your product, and whether or not it has passed the purity testing.
We hope this article has helped you understand the legal intricacies surrounding the status of CBD in the United States. If you like our content, share it on your social media — because sharing is caring!
- Siff, S. (2014). “The Illegalization of Marijuana: A Brief History”. Origins, vol. 7,8. Retrieved from: https://origins.osu.edu/article/illegalization-marijuana-brief-history
- Sawler, Jason et al. “The Genetic Structure of Marijuana and Hemp.” PloS one vol. 10,8 e0133292. 26 Aug. 2015, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0133292
- de Meijer, Etienne P M et al. “The inheritance of chemical phenotype in Cannabis sativa L.” Genetics vol. 163,1 (2003): 335-46.
- United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). “Agricultural Act of 2014: Highlights and Implications.” Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/agricultural-act-of-2014-highlights-and-implications/
- United States Department of Agriculture. (2018). “2018 Farm Bill.” Retrieved from: https://www.farmers.gov/manage/farmbill