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The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer

By Viviana Echeverria

On Monday December 17th, 2018 , Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill after months of back-and-forth, and on Thursday, President Trump signed the 807-page document into law. And, as predicted in Well+Good’s 2019 Wellness Trends, this potentially could affect everything from your morning coffee to your skin care regimen—because this bill sets the stage for CBD to go big-time, with a huge wave of new products.



Every five-ish years, this massive piece of legislation gets an update, essentially setting the tone for agricultural policy in the half-decade that follows. This year, in between details about farmer’s market funding and food stamps, there are also some major new mandates around hemp cultivation. 


This new legislation paves the way for the wellness-world star ingredient (which is said to have major anti-inflammatory powers) to break through to the mainstream.


What does the 2018 Farm Bill say about hemp, exactly?

 First off, it’s important to distinguish industrial hemp—the plant that’s addressed in the Farm Bill—from the one we usually refer to as marijuana. Although both are varieties of the cannabis sativa plant, industrial hemp is classified by law as containing less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive compound THC. (Translation: It won’t make you high.) Marijuana, on the other hand, is cannabis with 0.3 percent THC or more.


Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, certain farmers were allowed to cultivate industrial hemp as part of a pilot program—one with a lot of rules and restrictions on how much hemp could be cultivated and why. That’s part of the reason we’ve started to see so many CBD products enter the market over the past couple of years.


 If you’ve been eyeing brands in California and Colorado for years, your FOMO could come to an end soon.


So you’re saying all CBD products are legal now?

 Well, no. Remember the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana? While CBD products produced from industrial hemp are no longer considered Schedule I substances, CBD products that come from marijuana plants with more than .03 percent THC are still federally illegal. (Even if the finished product itself has less than 0.3 percent THC.) Sure, most of the super-commercial CBD products we’re seeing today fall into the first category. But still, it’s a myth that anything with “CBD” on the label is going to be free and clear in 2019.


CBD products produced from industrial hemp are no longer considered Schedule I substances, CBD products that come from marijuana plants with more than .03 percent THC are still federally illegal.

What’s more, the FDA still has the final say when it comes to using CBD in food, cosmetics, and supplements. (So, basically, everything.) Its current position is that CBD isn’t permitted in any of those categories. That said, the agency isn’t actively going after CBD brands right now unless they’re making misleading health claims, which is part of the reason why we see so many brands making CBD products anyway.

At this point, it’s unclear how the FDA will respond to the Farm Bill. While CBD insiders hope that its position will eventually come in line with that of the USDA—because what’s the point of making industrial hemp legal if it’s not allowed in the majority of consumer products?—the FDA may need some time and further research to solidify its stance. So watch this space.


Will I definitely be able to buy CBD products in my state?

Not necessarily. The Farm Bill says that although these federal guidelines now exist, each state is still free to create its own regulatory framework around industrial hemp.

Right now, every state has its own views on hemp, and that’s not likely to end just because of the Farm Bill. For example, while hemp CBD is A-OK in all forms under Illinois and Montana state law, it’s not allowed in food or supplements in California—and it’s illegal in Idaho if there’s any THC in the product at all (even less than the .03 percent that’s allowed nationally).

The USDA will need to sign off on each state’s regulatory proposal, but it’s unclear exactly how heavy-handed the agency will be in terms of bringing the strictest regulations in line with what’s federally allowable. So it’s likely that we’ll continue to see variations in what’s legal between states for the time being.

What does this all mean for the future of CBD?

Clearly, there are still a lot of uncertainties swirling around the CBD landscape. But, overall, experts are hopeful that the Farm Bill will help take CBD to the next level of legitimacy. “There’s still a lot of confusion around CBD, and [the Farm Bill] adds an extra layer of clarification,” says Cannabis Feminist Jessica Assaf, cofounder of forthcoming hemp CBD brand and education platform Prima. “Spelling it out will be really helpful in making adjacent industries, like manufacturers and retailers, more comfortable and excited [about CBD].”

Bottom line: The CBD market may soon be getting a little more crowded, thanks to the Farm Bill, but that means it’s more important than ever to do your hemp homework.


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