Cannabis has had a rocky history in the United States. Starting in the 1920s, various states banned the use of the herb, which eventually leads to the federal government banning the plant’s use under any circumstances for several decades.
Only in the 1970s did regulators consider the medical applications of the plant and began rolling out medical programs around the country. CBD wouldn’t be recognized as a medicinal agent for quite some time, and regulators saw all forms of the cannabis plant as a drug — including hemp.
Now, as we inch our way towards a new decade, the landscape is much different.
The federal government recently passed a bill that clearly differentiated two forms of the cannabis plant — hemp and marijuana — arguing that the hemp variety can’t produce the psychoactive high inherent to marijuana. They crossed hemp off the list of restricted substances, giving people open access to the plant for the first time in over 80 years.
But the landscape is continually changing, each state has its own laws to work out in response to this federal change — and some are much slower than others.
In this article, we’ll discuss what makes some sources of CBD legal, while others remain a Schedule I controlled substance.
Let’s get started with an overview of what CBD actually is.
What Is CBD and Is It Legal?
CBD is short for cannabidiol — it’s just one of over 400 other compounds found in the cannabis plant and arguably the most relevant for medical use.
The cannabinoids are a unique class of compounds not exclusive to the cannabis plant, you can also find it in plants like Echinaceae or Helichrysum, but none as abundant as Cannabis.
Cannabinoids are classified by their ability to interact with a specialized system of receptors and hormones in the body aptly named the endocannabinoid system. End– meaning “inside the body”. Conversely, cannabinoids that come from plants such as cannabis are called phyto-cannabinoids.
The endocannabinoid system is a regulatory system — meaning it indirectly controls a variety of processes in the human body by either turning them up or dialing them back down. This is why compounds like CBD have such a long list of benefits and uses.
The Endocannabinoid System Regulates the Following Processes:
- Energy metabolism
- Immune function
- Pain transmission
- Temperature regulation
What Is CBD Used For?
Working through the endocannabinoid system, CBD offers a wide variety of benefits on the human body. It’s used to regulate the stress response, promote sleep, regulate metabolism, and even reduce the transmission of pain signals headed to the brain.
The reason CBD has so many uses comes down to its ability to interact with this centrally-regulating endocannabinoid system. This has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the body, assisting in the regulation of other organ systems all around the body.
Science has come a long way in recent decades to track the benefits of the cannabis plant and its chief cannabinoids — CBD and THC (the main psychoactive cannabinoid).
The most popular uses of CBD include:
- Managing chronic pain
- Promoting sleep
- Reducing inflammation
- Alleviating high-stress levels
- Boosting immune function
- Protecting cognitive health
- Promoting optimal skin health
Over the years, it’s become harder to deny the benefits of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, especially CBD. Thousands of scientific studies have been published highlighting either the benefits of CBD for a specific condition or defining its safety.
Even the World Health Organization recently stated that “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
In light of these reports, the world has started opening up to the use of CBD as a health supplement. But with some caveats related to the psychoactive compounds in the cannabis plant — namely THC.
Let’s explore this important distinction in more detail.
Controversy Over the Legal Status of CBD
There’s a big problem regulators face with the cannabis plant — some of the compounds it produces are powerfully medicinal, while others make users high.
Historically, regulators around the world simply axed the benefits of the cannabis plant to keep the intoxicating parts illegal — but times have changed. People want access to the numerous health benefits of cannabinoids like CBD. After decades of lobbying and protesting, the legal status of cannabis is finally being reevaluated around the world.
In the United States, the change is slow and frustratingly complicated. Cannabis laws are different on a federal level to a state level and can differ significantly from one state to the next. Some states allow the use of CBD with medical approval only, others are completely legal for any reason — you can even buy products at corner stores, gas stations, and even vending machines. It’s not always limited to dispensaries.
While the laws on CBD’s legalities are loosening federally, in a select few states you can still be arrested and thrown in jail for having a bottle of CBD oil on you.
Because the laws continue to evolve around cannabis, it’s critically important that you pay attention to the local laws in your specific state and check for updates regularly.
Not All Cannabis Products Are Created Equal
There are two main kinds of cannabis — marijuana and hemp. This is an important distinction to make because it’s the most important factor when determining whether a particular product is legal or illegal.
Although both types of cannabis are the exact same species (Cannabis sativa), they produce radically different cannabinoid profiles.
Let’s cover each form of cannabis in more detail.
The first type of cannabis — marijuana — is what most people think of when they hear the word “cannabis”. These plants are a form of Cannabis sativa that produces mid to high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which is the main psychoactive compound in the plant. The THC is what makes users high.
Marijuana plants are considered a Schedule I drug in the United States — putting it in the same classification as heroin and fentanyl — two of the most dangerous drugs in America.
Don’t be mislead, marijuana is not a deadly drug — but the laws haven’t changed on a federal level in 80 years.
There are some exceptions on a state level, but if the federal government ever wanted to convict someone for using marijuana, it could.
Hemp is another type of Cannabis sativa that produces less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. This is the sole classification for a particular cannabis plant to be considered hemp. If a particular strain produces even 0.4% THC, it’s marijuana.
Hemp isn’t held to the same legal confines as marijuana. It’s been legal for a long time in the United States, but only through rigorous license applications and approval from US regulators.
Everything changed with the release of the 2018 Farm Bill, which lifted the ban on hemp and removed it from the controlled substances act as a schedule I drug.
Now hemp can be grown just as easily as crops such as corn or wheat throughout the United States. Most states honor this change and allow farmers in the state to cultivate hemp plants — some have been resisting.
As a byproduct of this evolution, supplement companies now have access to hemp as a source of nutritional products — which now falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate as a nutritional supplement.
The FDA has yet to make any strong stance for or against the sale of hemp-derived products in the United States and the market has become a bit of a wild West in this regard.
The Major Differences Between Marijuana & Hemp
|Species||Cannabis sativa L.||Cannabis sativa L.|
|Legal Definition||Cannabis sativa plants with less than 0.3% THC by dried weight||Cannabis sativa plants with more than 0.3% THC by dried weight|
|Psychoactivity||Completely non-psychoactive (doesn’t produce a high)||May have psychoactive effects (may produce a high)|
|Federal Legal Status||No drug scheduling (completely legal)||Schedule I drug (completely illegal)|
|State Legal Status||Legal in most states, with some exceptions||Legal in select states recreationally and most states with medical approval. Some states, it remains completely illegal.|
The Legality of CBD Products by State
When the federal government in the United States comes out with a change to certain laws — the states have the ability to honor this change or produce their own state legislature to challenge the laws.
There’s no better example of states exercising their right to challenge federal laws than in the realm of cannabis laws.
After the farm bill was released, some states chose to honor this change, allowing their citizens to access hemp-derived CBD products. Others resisted, enacting laws that made possession of the non-psychoactive hemp plants illegal.
Over the past few months, many of these states have since reverted. Below is an up-to-date list of American states divided by two main categories — legal and conditionally legal states.
In the past, we had a list for illegal states, which included North Dakota, Nebraska, Idaho, and Iowa — but these states have since changed their laws to allow CBD either medicinally or over the counter as a health supplement.
There are no longer any states outright banning the use of CBD.
1. Legal States
These states honor the changes in the 2018 Farm Bill completely — in these states, you’re free to purchase, possess, and use hemp-derived products including CBD oils and capsules.
You’ll find CBD at your local dispensary, supermarkets, online, and sometimes even at local gas stations. There are no restrictions to CBD use in these states.
Most of the American CBD companies operate out of these states, especially in places that adapted their laws ahead of the curve — like Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and California.
2. Conditionally-Legal States
These states allow citizens to buy hemp-derived products but there are some caveats.
In some states, such as North Dakota or Minnesota you’ll need a doctor’s approval and licensed medical card in order to buy cannabis products including CBD.
In other states, like Michigan or Nebraska, CBD is both legal and illegal. The legislature in these states has yet to work out the details of the recent 2018 Farm Bill changes — making it unlikely to be able to buy CBD in these states anywhere but online.
We consider these states a legal grey area, which is more common than you’d think. It can take a long time for local governments to adapt to changes on a federal level. Right now, we’re caught in the transition period for these states.
In all conditionally-legal states, you can expect it to be a little harder to find hemp-derived CBD products locally.
Legal Status of Hemp-Derived Products State-By-State
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
What Does the Future Look Like For CBD Products In the United States?
CBD is now available in all 50 states of America — to varying degrees. Most citizens can access the supplement in-store legally but may be hard-pressed to find it in some of the stricter states requiring medical cards.
The best bet is to source CBD products online and have it sent to your home, office, or PO box instead.
Moving forward, we expect the laws to continue to change across federal and state legislature as more people demand access to this safe and effective supplement.
Already the landscape is changing, as the regulation of legal nutritional products now falls into the regulation of the FDA — who have yet to make any official statements for or against the sale and use of CBD as a nutritional supplement. People are suspecting an FDA crackdown coming to companies operating in the CBD space.
Stay tuned, we’ll be sure to keep you posted as the landscape continues to change.