On the last day of 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a piece of legislation (“HB 5085”) that gives veterinarians permission to discuss the potential therapeutic benefits and risks of using marijuana and hemp, especially cannabidiol (“CBD”), with pet owners. The statutory language is sparse but its legislative analysis explains that HB 5085 aims for veterinarians to become “a trusted source of information, in a marketplace with many competing and confusing claims,” which the report explains “would ultimately benefit both pets’ health and their owners’ peace of mind.”
This new law may come as a surprise to many given the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has yet to approve the use of CBD in pet products. Indeed, to date, no food additive petitions or ingredients for any substance derived from hemp in animal food have been approved or recognized as Generally Recognized As Safe (“GRAS”). Moreover, the FDA takes strong issue with promoting the therapeutic value of CBD products, as demonstrated in its issuance of warning letters to manufacturers of CBD pet products that dared making medical claims about their products.
Yet, if you review the FDA’s cannabis FAQ, you’ll notice that while the federal agency cautions pet owners against the use of these products, it also recommends that they talk to their veterinarian about “appropriate treatment options” for their pets. This is because the First Amendment prevents the federal government, as well as states, from telling doctors and other health professional what they can and cannot say. In this regard, the new Michigan law is merely symbolic in that veterinarians already had the ability to discuss the risks and benefits of giving pets CBD products. What the new law doesn’t do, however, is authorize veterinarian to sell CBD pet products, such as pet treats, which is strictly prohibited in Michigan.
Like the FDA, the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (“MDARD”)’s Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division, Animal Feed Safety and Agriculture Products Section – that’s a mouthful – deems the addition of CBD into commercial feed products, such as pet treats, unlawful and expressly bans the sale of these products as dietary supplements. However, the state agency opines that “a person can choose to supplement their own pet’s food with hemp or hemp-derived products like CBD oil”, which MDARD claims may be sold in the state, provided the product meets certain labeling and marketing requirements.
According to a 2020 Pet Industry Green Paper, jointly published by Nielsen Holdings plc and Headset, nearly three-fourths of current U.S. consumers have pets, and almost one-fourth of these pet owners use CBD for themselves, their pets, or both. Yet, few understand its effect on their furry friends.
Therefore, in light of the significant CBD information gap that currently exists in the U.S., the passage of a bill like HB 5085, even if merely symbolic, is a step in the right direction. Helping consumers understand how CBD works on their pets will not only mitigate the risk of adverse effects, it will also mandate supply chain transparency, which will result in trust and guarantee quality, and thus, will help legitimize the CBD industry.