Last week, the 2018 Farm Bill became law. Included in that law is a milestone provision that removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and another that prohibits states from preventing transportation or shipment of hemp or hemp products across state lines– even if a state has itself outlawed hemp or hemp products. However, following passage of the Farm Bill, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement virtually ensuring that regardless of changes to the CSA, the FDA will effectively maintain the prohibition on most uses of CBD until further notice, because it retains control over the safety of foods and dietary supplements that include cannabis or cannabis products.
A quick review of some relevant terminology for context: The cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa L.) is cultivated in many strains, with varying levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the non-psychoactive ingredient cannabidiol (CBD), along with hundreds of other constituent ingredients. The Farm Bill amends the CSA to define “hemp” (formerly referred to as “industrial hemp”) as the cannabis plant, any parts of the cannabis plant, and all derivatives therefrom, to the extent they contain a THC concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis (i.e. not psychoactive). Any cannabis plant or derivative with more than 0.3% THC remains a Schedule I controlled substance that is illegal under the CSA.
The FDA’s statement clarifies that with respect to foods and dietary supplements, absent further action by the FDA, CBD-infused food or dietary supplements still cannot be legally sold in interstate commerce, even if the Farm Bill mandates that interstate transport and shipment of hemp and hemp CBD must be allowed. The FDA has also taken the position that if CBD-infused products of any kind are marketed as having medical uses or disease-curing properties, they will be subject to FDA regulation as “drugs” under existing law.
But a question that has not yet been answered is how these recent developments affect the legality of hemp-derived CBD extract oil used as an additive in vape products, which is a common application for CBD, but which is not within the realm of foods or dietary supplements. Electronic nicotine delivery systems such as vape pens are regulated separately by the FDA as tobacco products, but it’s unclear how a hemp CBD-only (i.e. containing no tobacco-derived or cannabis-derived products) vape pen would fare under federal law post-Farm Bill. It’s also not clear how the FDA would view hemp CBD as a standalone additive to vape products, and whether it would fall within FDA regulatory purview.
Here in California, it’s also unclear how the Department of Public Health (CDPH), the agency charged with regulating manufactured cannabis products in the state, will view hemp CBD use in vape products. We’ve previously looked at the muddy state of California hemp CBD regulation. Although current CDPH regulations allow cannabis-derived CBD as an additive in licensed manufacturing of cannabis vape products, they also mandate that “[a] manufacturer licensee shall only use cannabinoid concentrates and extracts that are manufactured or processed from cannabis obtained from a licensed cannabis cultivator.” This would seem to foreclose hemp CBD altogether as an option for manufacturing licensees. However, California cannabis statutes make clear that regulated cannabis does not include hemp, and that hemp is an entirely separate regulated substance for which only cultivation is currently regulated by state law.
We already know that the CDPH has determined that hemp CBD will not be a permitted food additive until either the FDA says it is or the CDPH determines it is safe for human consumption, even though cannabis-derived CBD is already allowed as a food additive under state law. And although it may seem reasonable for CDPH to seek to prohibit licensees from using any CBD (including hemp CBD) derived from unlicensed sources, as well as to prohibit unlicensed persons from manufacturing at least cannabis-derived CBD from any source given that existing regulations restrict it, we will not know for sure how the state is going to deal with hemp CBD use in vape products until CDPH issues guidance as it did with respect to hemp CBD as an additive to foods.
So what does all of this mean? Despite passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp, it may not have helped much with the confused state of regulation in California and other states. Use of hemp CBD in vape products is still a grey area at best, and use of hemp CBD as a food additive is still prohibited in California. There appears to be interest in passing California legislation regulating the sale of hemp CBD, and perhaps this legislation will also address the use of CBD in manufacturing in a way that reconciles potential inconsistencies with existing state cannabis regulations as well as federal deregulation. For now, this might be the first time in modern history that a cannabis substance appears to be treated more permissively by the federal government than California—at least for now.